For far too long, Cape Breton has been defined by a nagging sense of decline and stagnation. As MLA for Cape Breton Centre for 17 years, I saw proud people struggle to find work, saw sons and daughters leave for chances elsewhere, and felt a sense of hopelessness set in. We Cape Bretoners are a resilient bunch, but times haven’t always been easy.
In western Cape Breton, that has started to change. Over the past decade, a region that has long struggled is now a tourism hotspot that is the envy of the world. In recent years, Cape Breton has outperformed the rest of Atlantic Canada when it comes to tourism, and I want to see that continue. The world is starting to recognize what we’ve always known – this is one of the most beautiful and charming places on Earth.
But none of that really matters if people can’t come and visit with the convenience they expect. That’s why I fully support the idea of a new airport for Inverness County. This proposed airport will bring commercial air traffic to the region for the first time, it will allow more visitors to spend more time and money in the area, and it will further support associated businesses like hotels, restaurants and gas stations. It will create over 600 jobs in the first five years of operation, employing hundreds of people who have often had to look beyond our shores for work.
I understand people are upset that this project will be using public dollars, but I am also encouraged by the respectful tone that the debate has taken thus far. There are a number of priorities and challenges that need to be addressed on Cape Breton Island. But these dollars have not been allocated for health care, education or roads. If it doesn’t get spent on an airport in Inverness County, it will surely be spent somewhere else far from home. Do we really want to say no to millions of dollars of investment in our community because there are other problems that we also need to address? To me, that seems like cutting off our nose to spite our face.
If all goes well, the people working as a result of this new airport development will also be paying taxes to the provincial government – taxes that will help patch those potholes and pay for those doctors.
There has also been an argument pitting airports against each other. This isn’t helpful and is entirely the wrong approach. This new airport will largely handle commercial air traffic, which currently can’t land in Port Hawkesbury. It won’t be dependent upon private jets offloading luxury travelers. The people landing at the airport will overwhelmingly be middle-class folks who want to be able to visit Cape Breton for a short stay. Instead of spending hours driving to and from Halifax or Sydney, these visitors will spend those hours driving the Cabot Trail, enjoying a meal and discovering the hidden treasures that make Cape Breton irresistible.
We have an opportunity before us, a chance to build something truly special. Let’s say goodbye to petty arguments and divisive tactics. Let’s welcome a new era of confidence in the present and hope for the future. This airport won’t solve all of our problems, but it can be part of the solution.
We should embrace this chance, and welcome the world’s visitors. I know they’ll love what they find.
Frank Corbett Lingan
(MLA for Cape Breton Centre between 1998 and 2015)