Of Wharves and Ferry Docks
There is a fine line between fishing, and standing on a wharf looking like an idiot
Before there was a ferry. Before there were income taxes. Even before there was a Liberal party, their were wharves. Wharves were among the first things we built in Nova Scotia. The most fundamental part of our infrastructure.
All around Nova Scotia we still say "Government Wharf" as if it's just a name. It's easy to forget that wharves were the original business of government in the province. That's what local government did - they financed and built wharves.
They financed the government works not through taxes on the citizens, but by tariffs and levies on those wanting to do business in Nova Scotia or with Nova Scotians - those wanting to use the wharves. It was a very different idea about government and the economy - government as the business of infrastructure.
Later government built roads and eventually became involved in education. And until the 20th century that was about it. The people - through their industry and good works, the judicial system, and the military took care of everything else.
Today wharves are still surprisingly central to Nova Scotia's economy. And from one end of the province to the other they are in trouble. Like all of our government infrastructure, crucial capital investments have been deferred in favour of other business - to the breaking point. 100 years on the neglect is becoming dangerous to people, the economy and our future.
Here's a link to the wharves of Nova Scotia.
So, it was kind of galling this week to learn that on top of everything else about the Ferry Farce the government was committing a secret undisclosed sum to update and upgrade wharves in Portland Maine.
Today Jamie Baillie, leader of the Provincial Progressive Conservative opposition party asked the Premier of Nova Scotia to state clearly how much that would cost and if that money might not be better invested here at home.
These are good questions. No mater how we define our problems and priorities here in Nova Scotia, having some critical method and clear decision rules for putting our limited resources to their highest and best use is a fundamental that all citizens and reasonable politicians would agree on.
Mr. McNeil, the Premier of Nova Scotia, was not able, or willing, to answer any aspect or implication of the question.
His obfuscating response was that he had stood on many wharves in Nova Scotia.
I'm sure he has.
In 2004 a report on the state of wharves in Nova Scotia, The Land And Sea Report, revealed concerning findings. Little was done and today things are much worse. Investment responsibility has been essentially abdicated and in many cases the communities of Nova Scotia, while paying the highest combined tax burden in all of Canada are, for the first time since Nova Scotia was founded, left to struggle alone to build, maintain and repair wharves.
“for coastal communities, harbours and wharves perform functions equivalent to the major public infrastructure in urban areas such as highways, bridges, airports and industrial parks”
-- Between the Land and the Sea, 2004
Rising tide levels, rotting timbers, ever bigger boats, and a sea that never lets the land be, challenge Nova Scotia communities like Port Lorne to keep wharves safe.
Port Lorne Link
Even more desperate, other communities like Port Williams and Bear River have lost their wharves through environmental degradation and neglect, and by extension lost their connection to the sea that brought opportunity, food and the exciting adventure of life.
There's a lot of work to be done to reconnect Nova Scotia to the sea. It starts at the wharf in rural Nova Scotia, not at the 'tech hub' in Halifax or the ferry dock in Portland Maine.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.