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West Coast leaders predict another big year

Liberal MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains) says that technological and communication upgrades are benefiting rural NL communities. – File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — It seemed that 2022 was a year of big announcements and big plans for Stephenville and area, and Mayor Tom Rose is looking forward to what will unfold this year as a result.

“I’m really pleased with the direction the town is heading from a municipality perspective. We’ve done the things that were our core responsibilities, like our garbage collection and snow clearing, but we also have been doing upgrades. We completed Pleasant Avenue this past year. We built a brand-new playground for our children, a playground for people with disabilities. We’ve also put in new sidewalks. We’re doing a lot of community-based stuff with our Christmas Adventure on Main Street. It’s becoming a signature hit,” said Rose. “Even Councillor Tracy Boland and her work with the Guardian Angels, the work that we’ve committed to with the BEST Bus, our touch points are good. We’re doing great stuff for the business community and the residents, our seniors, our children, and I’m very pleased with our council, our priorities and what we’ve done.”

A major agreement was signed in Stephenville in 2022 as well.

“It was a historic day. It will 100 per cent go down in Stephenville, but will also go down in the record books for Newfoundland and Canada because we had two G7 leaders sign an international energy agreement in Stephenville, Newfoundland, because this is the site allocated by World Energy GH2 to plan a $12 billion expansion of a 3-gigabyte wind farm, three sites, plus a green hydrogen plant. It actually put Stephenville on the world stage. The world now knows about Stephenville and, prior to August 23, some people knew, but not the world.”

With the wind development project on the Port au Port Peninsula and the airport deal both at the forefront of large scale industry development in the region, Rose said there is significant growing interest rolling into Stephenville.

“We’re starting to see some tertiary industries already moving into Stephenville. We’ve issued four new permits for four new businesses already, and the official announcements aren’t made yet. This is still speculation stages. The airport deal is not done and John Risley is still waiting to get the approvals from the provincial government, but when you see that interest so early in the game, can you imagine the interest we’re going to have once these deals are fully announced and in full swing?”

It’s more than industry that is making 2023 seem promising.

“We do have some cultural projects with some new wigwams being established in Stephenville. We’ve got some of them built already and we’re waiting until the spring (to install them), but we also have approval to revitalize and do a full construction on Main Street and we’ve been sitting on an architectural design for a few years because we couldn’t move forward with the aesthetic for the upgrades until we did the heavy civil work, like repairing the water etcetera. There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment around town on Main Street this year, but no pain no gain. We’re actually doing a $7 million upgrade on Main Street, so it’s going to be phenomenal,” said Rose.“We’re also looking at having the first mass timber frame bridge built in Newfoundland and Labrador ,which will replace the old steel structure over Carolina next to the Indian Head Co-op. So that’s two projects just there, and we do have some additional plans as well.”

The federal government also had a big year according to Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural and Economic Development. Despite challenges, Hutchings believes Canada stood strong in 2022.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it. We’re coming out of the pandemic. We’re still feeling the effects of the global supply chain. We are still feeling the effects from over in the Ukraine, day-to-day. People don’t realize the effects those are still having on our economy, but the foundation in Canada is strong and we are going to get through this and be stronger on the other side. I’m positive of that.”

Newfoundland and Labrador has shown significant strength in the wake of Fiona, something Hutchings said is proof that climate change is real and one of the reasons the federal government is working so hard to reduce the carbon footprint.

“It’s having such an impact on everyone’s day-to-day lives, and of course with the impact of the hurricane, it’s one thing to say there is a bad storm in Europe, or a bad storm here, a bad storm there, but when it hits in your own backyard, I think that’s when people say, ‘Wow, we’ve experienced this first hand.’ I know it’s difficult for the people who were directly impacted, but we’re there for them every step of the way and Port aux Basques and the whole area will be building back and building back stronger and better.”

Numerous programs were announced on behalf of the federal government as well that aims to assist Canadians with the high cost of living that many are struggling with.

“I don’t think people realize the impact our dental plan is going to have for children. People who didn’t have any health insurance, kids now have access to dental care. And the numbers that have signed up are just incredible. The week it was launched there was over 65,000 kids Canadian-wise,” said Hutchings. “When you talk to dentists, they say good dental care when you’re young pays off when you’re older. Having good oral healthcare and being cognizant of how important it is, that helps your gums as you age and you’re not having to lose teeth, the impact on the day-to-day is just incredible.”

Much of what is being done may not be immediately seen, but the government has more plans promised Hutchings.

“The increase for the GST for those on OAS has been significant during these times, and the vision as we move to a greener economy of critical minerals and helping people transition off oil into other economies, we’ve got a plan and it’s working. Even though people don’t see it exactly in their face now, due to the impacts of getting back on our feet from COVID and the war in Ukraine.”

Another significant step forward that Hutchings is extremely pleased with is the access to high-speed internet across the country.

“When we formed government, 79 per cent of Canada had access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet, and we’re now at 93.5 per cent and we are well on our way to meet our target of 98 per cent in 2026.”

This is not insignificant considering that COVID-19 changed the working landscape for many Canadians who now do the majority of their work from home.

“Communities that do have access to internet are seeing more people move in, more people working from home. I think that is one good thing that we learned out of COVID. You can work a bit from home. Before you all had to get together for a meeting, but now many do a Zoom call. Technology is wonderful, so having access is going to be a huge equalizer for the country. That’s a game-changer for rural economies.”

Hutchings also said to watch out for the new interactive web page on her site which will be launching this month, which will show exactly what money was spent and where investments have been made in the Long Range Mountains.

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