By Andrew Macdonald

A Message To Rodger Cuzner – Twin the 104 HWY To The Canso Causeway – Don’t Give Taxpayers Dollars To A Cabot Links airport

If Rodger Cuzner, the outgoing Cape Breton-Canso twenty-year long Liberal MP is looking for a political legacy and swan song to go out in style, he ought to fund the twinning of the 104 HWY from the outskirts of Antigonish to the Canso Causeway.

But, as The Macdonald Notebook reported in a News Scoop on June 1st, the Liberal Trudeau government is being asked by Cabot Links to fund an $18 million project, to build an airport in Inverness.

Golf course co-owner Ben Cowan Dewar has been a multi-government funding favorite of Cabot Links – and has received $8.5 million from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

It is also understood Cowan-Dewar is hoping to get more  Nova Scotia government funding for the airport. Previously, Cowan Dewar got $8.5 million from the NS government.

There has been a regional airport in Port Hawkesbury since 1973 – it was built by Pierre Trudeau deputy prime minister Allan J. MacEachen, and is now named after the political giant.

The Port Hawkesbury airport is only one hour and 12 minute drive from 2011 built Cabot Links, considered among the top ten best courses in the world – and Cabot Cliffs was built in 2015.

But, if the Trudeau government wants to give out meaningful taxpayers dollars to improve the lot of Nova Scotians, it ought to twin from Antigonish to the Canso Causway, a death trap highway, because that section of the Trans Canada HWY is a two lane road.

Any funding from Ottawa using the $2 billion Trade Corridor Funding should go to twinning the highway – not to an airport which would lead to the closure of the Port Hawkesbury airport – something that former Port Hawkesbury mayor Billy Joe MacLean says would happen the first day an airport in Inverness opens for business.

NS Transportation minister Lloyd Hines told me in an interview earlier this year, he has talked to Rodger Cuzner about twinning to the Canso Causway – the main trucking route to Cape Breton & Newfoundland.

Lloyd Hines is one of the more active ministers ever for the Transportation & Infrastructure department. NS Gov photo.

“Without a doubt, with all the benefits of good safe roads bring, there is the aspect of economic development. If you look at the origin of roads, the first pathways developed by the Aboriginal people here – they were about trade, food, about culture, commerce, and if you drive the highways of Nova Scotia today, you will see the exact same considerations in play about highways”, says Hines.

“We ship our goods and food and move traffic from place to place, and shortening the time distances”, Hines tells The Macdonald Notebook.

“In a perfect world we’d have enough money to twin all the main arteries in the province. Complete the 104, complete the 103, and getting a good chunk of the 101 done”, says Hines.

“Absolutely there is no doubt it is a tremendous boost for the citizens and the economy when we rely so heavily on vehicles to have these kind of safe roads to Nova Scotia – they definitely provide economic stimulus for the province”, he adds.

Hines tells The Macdonald Notebook he has talked to Cuzner about getting money from Ottawa to twin to the Canso Causeway.

Last summer Hines and PM Justin Trudeau announced $300 million to twin the 104 from Sutherland’s River to Antigonish – a 40-kilometre stretch, where 16 folk have died since 2009.

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser, PM Justin Trudeau and Premier Stephen McNeil announced $300-million in road twinning money for the 104 HWY. last summer. The Notebook Photo.

The remainder of the 104 to the Canso Causeway is also a death trap, and most of its 50-kilometres is in Cuzner’s federal riding.

“Oh yes, Rodger is out of the gate very early on that – and he is making the case (to twin) as was the case with the 104 funding from the federal government from (New Glasgow to Antigonish), which came from the Trade Corridor’s Fund”, notes Hines.

The importance of twinning all the way to Cape Breton is that it is a main traffic corridor and it services significantly Newfoundland – it is the Trans Canada Highway”, Hines tells me.

“Rodger has been talking about this for some time – in terms of completing the next section from Antigonish’s Taylor’s Road to the Canso Causeway”, says Hines.

If Hines is correct that twinning the route is on the agenda of Rodger Cuzner – twinning has not always been a priority of his, from what I have gathered over the years.

Cuzner could twin the 50-kilometre stretch and end the death carnage, which last fall saw three motorists on the highway in Cuzner’s riding die in an auto collision.

Dead were three women, in a three-car pile up on the 104 HWY in Antigonish County – not far from the legendary steakhouse, Mother Webb’s.

A 67-year-old, a 60-year old and a 36-year old were left dead.

It is 2019, and people should not be dying on our highways.

Highways minister Lloyd Hines, and his predecessor Geoff MacLellan have a great plan to twin the death trap 104 HWY from the outskirts of New Glasgow to Antigonish – a 40-kilometre stretch.

As I understand the file – Hines single-handedly got outgoing NS Trudeau minister Scott Brison to fund the that northeastern NS twinning, with $90-million from Ottawa.

While that massive twinning will benefit the local Central Nova MP, Sean Fraser, the reality is that when I spoke to Fraser in the 2015 federal campaign, road twinning was not high on his agenda.

Equally, Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey was not directly involved with the New Glasgow-Antigonish twinning program.

As for the three fatalities at Dagger Woods, that is in the riding of Cape Breton-Canso MP, Rodger Cuzner.

Cuzner’s only claim to fame is having been elected for the last 20-years. He’s a career politician.

My thinking on Cuzner’s political life has not changed since I wrote a July, 2018 column in The Notebook that he had pushed the Notebook Political Hypocrisy Needle To The Extreme Right.

I wrote that opinion after Rodger Cuzner was front and centre during the historic announcement by PM Justin Trudeau that Ottawa would give $90 million to twin Hwy. 104, between New Glasgow and Antigonish.

That was the July announcement, which Cuzner attended alongside Trudeau.

That stretch of highway is in Liberal MP Sean Fraser’s riding, and it is a dangerous section where 16 folks have died in auto accidents since 2009.

But a further part of the highway cuts through Cuzner’s riding, but that part—also a deathtrap—is not being twinned.

So there was Cuzner basking in the grand announcement with Trudeau last summer.

But Cuzner, a government backbencher and MP for Cape-Breton-Canso, has not always seen highway twinning as a priority.

In fact, I chased him doggedly in the 2015 federal campaign, and my questions on 104 twinning were unanswered.

The reality is that he was mum on the need to twin the 104 in his riding, and now that section won’t be twinned, despite the dangerous section through the Monastery area.

Thirty years ago, as a CIGO radio newshound, I reported on a family of three from Ontario who died after hitting a pulp truck in Monastery.

I remember this vividly as I also got into a traffic accident on a detour route that summer day. Too.

Following the election in 2015, Cuzner spoke about opening the former Sydney office of Veterans Affairs and talked about getting federal funds to help pay for the cost of removing a shipwreck on the Cape Breton coast.

But it was obvious road twinning was not on his political agenda. In 2015, Cuzner refused to answer written questions I gave him on whether he would fight for road twinning funds from Ottawa.

He remained silent on the key question, both during the campaign and after being re-elected in 2015.

Not long after a young Sheet Harbour father and husband died in 2015 on the untwinned 104, I spoke to a political aide with Cuzner.

“During the (2015) election, I mentioned your questions to Mr. Cuzner. And to be fair he really didn’t know what position to take on those issues,” said Cuzner aide Kris Kolanko

At the time, the provincial government was studying a toll option for twinning.

“He’s never been asked those questions before about toll highways. It’s a provincial jurisdiction,” said the staffer.

But I reminded the political aide that Ottawa has a huge role to play with road building and twinning.

Powerful Harper minister Peter MacKay delivered nearly $100 million to highway projects in Central Nova, including the 16-kilometre Antigonish bypass.

One of the previous questions Cuzner left unanswered is whether he would work to get Trudeau’s infrastructure pot of money for Hwy. 104 twinning.

One of Cuzner’s stated goals is to get federal funding for a defunct rail route to Sydney, the key to building a container terminal in Sydney.

But federal funding should not be directed towards the rail line, especially when the Port of Halifax only operates at 40% capacity.

It would be criminal if the feds funded the Sydney rail line, and did nothing to twin the remainder of Hwy. 104, the main route for cargo going to Newfoundland by truck, I told Cuzner’s office in 2015.

I had hopes then that Cuzner would have seen road twinning as a top priority, given another Glace Bay politico, Geoff MacLellan, was at the time the province’s transportation minister.

MacLellan told me he was eying federal funds to help pay for twinning programs in his province.

Fortunately for twinning enthusiasts in Nova Scotia, the need to direct Ottawa funds to Nova Scotia road building efforts has been very much on the agenda of Scott Brison, the province’s federal minister.

On the campaign trail, Brison told me directly that some of the $125 billion Trudeau infrastructure pot would go to twinning projects in Nova Scotia. And that’s been a good thing for motorists in Nova Scotia.

Because I am like a dog with a bone, I did not give up trying to interview Cuzner on 104 twinning, so later on, in 2016, Cuzner finally addressed twinning, and told me:

“Twinning the highway is important…The future prosperity of our region will benefit most greatly through the Strait of Canso becoming an international transportation hub, to take advantage of the expected increase in trade with the European Union as a result of CETA, among other things,” he said.

“In order for this to happen, we need to complete the twinning of the TCH to at least the Causeway.”

But the Trudeau announcement means the route won’t be twinned to the causeway, as it really should be because it is part of the national highway system.

So around 50 kilometres of the road in Cuzner’s own riding will remain a two-lane deathtrap.

That’s not good enough, Rodger Cuzner – and it be criminal if he funded an $18 million airport project in Inverness – and did nothing to twin the 104 HWY in his own riding.

Especially, since international golfers can touch down at the existing Port Hawkesbury airport – which is only a one hour and 13 minute drive to Inverness’s Cabot Links golf course.

More residents of Nova Scotia stand to benefit if the route is twinned ALL the way to the Canso Causeway – not many Nova Scotians would use or benefit from federal funds going to build a private airport at Cabot Links.

Let’s do the right thing, Rodger Cuzner – let’s twin to the Canso Causeway. Lives are at stake.