A bill set to be introduced in the Senate Tuesday afternoon calls for the federal government to be solely responsible for millions of dollars' worth of work to protect a vulnerable land link between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
New Brunswick Sen. Jim Quinn says he's introducing it to draw attention to the issue after years of discussion about how to protect the Chignecto Isthmus.
"We have to look to see what is the right thing to do and how do we get it underway as soon as possible so that we don't run into situations that could be disastrous," Quinn said in an interview Tuesday morning.
The isthmus is a low-lying strip of land with a rail line, highway and power lines protected by dikes built centuries ago. An estimated $35 billion in trade each year crosses the isthmus, which studies have said is at risk of flooding and halting that trade.
Jim Quinn, a senator representing New Brunswick, says his previous role as CEO of Port Saint John made him interested in the issue. (Radio-Canada)
A report released last year looked at three options to protect the isthmus, with the options costing tens of millions of dollars. This year, the New Brunswick government said the estimated cost is now closer to $650 million.
The bill would invoke section 92(10) of the Constitution, which allows the federal government to take jurisdiction of undertakings that are in the national interest.
It's something Quinn said was done in 2014 when the federal government paid for a new Champlain Bridge in Montreal, as well as a new international bridge in Windsor to the United States.
"There's no doubt that the road and rail and communication infrastructure that flows through the isthmus is definitely in the general interest of Canada," Quinn said.
The Chignecto Isthmus connects Nova Scotia with the rest of Canada. (CBC News)
Quinn said he's interested in the issue in part because of his previous job as CEO of Port Saint John and the impact of trade on the broader economy.
"It's a key transportation logistics point for our Canadian economy," Quinn said of the isthmus.
"There's been discussions for decades on this issue. And I kind of thought, well, enough discussion. There's time now to raise this so that it's more in the eyes of the federal government."
The provinces and federal government have publicly squabbled about who should pay for the work.
The federal government has offered to pay for half of the work, while the provinces argue the federal government should cover the full cost.
The two provinces reluctantly submitted an application for funding this summer for federal funding while also asking Nova Scotia's Appeal Court to rule on whether Ottawa has exclusive responsibility to maintain the dikes and other structures.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was asked about the bill during a news conference on an unrelated topic Tuesday morning. Higgs said there are past examples where the federal government has paid the full cost.
"So I think that Sen. Quinn has a very valid argument to make," Higgs said.
Quinn said he hopes the bill will move to second reading in the Senate next week and then be sent to a committee for further discussion. However, he said he knows it won't be easy to get the bill passed.
"Hopefully we'll move forward and it will have a measure of success that will allow this thing to be addressed," Quinn said.
In the border town of Tantramar, Mayor Andrew Black welcomes the bill particularly after post-tropical storm Lee put the risk back in the spotlight.
"It seems like every big storm that comes our way, people get more and more anxious," Black said in an interview. "You know, is this going to be the storm that cuts us off from Nova Scotia?"
Community leaders have feared a storm coming up the Bay of Fundy at high tide would cause the dikes to fail, cutting off Nova Scotia.
Black said they were fortunate the conditions weren't right with Lee.
Quinn puts it more bluntly.
"We dodged a bullet yet again," he said.