Thursday, March 12, 2009


America's new Minnesota junior Senator, former "Air America" broadcaster, and "Saturday Night Live" comedian, Al Franken, gives the following sage advice: "When you encounter seemingly good advice that contradicts other seemingly good advice, ignore them both."

There may have been elements of a "buy American" mentality in the recent budget deliberations down south of the border, but obviously the fear of protectionism stops at the New Brunswick border.

Canada's steel producers are in a precarious holding pattern. Our shipbuilding industry is on its death bed. Each man, woman and child in the province of New Brunswick has just invested about one-hundred dollars U.S. into the well being of the Gulf of Mexico northern Florida community of Panama City.

The town, infamous for the annual "spring break" rituals of America's college crowd, is home to the Eastern Ship Building Group of companies. The good folks of Canada's "picture province" have just placed an order of about $70-million U.S. with Eastern Ship Building to construct an 82 car / 100 passenger ferry to service New Brunswick's off shore Bay of Fundy island of Grand Manaan.

Year round the island's only physical contact with the outside world is through a ferry system operated by the New Brunswick Department of Transportation. This new American built maid of the Fundy mist is scheduled to enter into service in 2011.

The island's recent history has been raucous. Some say it's a haven for drug smugglers and pushers. There have been incidents of vigilantism after locals blamed the RCMP for dragging its investigative feet. The new year-round ferry is expected to bolster tourism and improve the community's access to the majority of essential goods, services and products which must be shipped-in from the mainland.

Though certainly Premier Shawn Graham's Liberal Government has unleashed a hornets nest of vocal critics of the Transportation Department's choice of an American contractor to deliver the new ferry. The province claims there were a total of five bids from four different companies for this contract. It is known that the two lowest acceptable offers were from non-Canadian competitors with the least expensive coming from Florida's Eastern Ship Building.

Doubtless the Americans will build a fine ship for the good people of Grand Manaan. But, after another long miserable winter in eastern Canada, I'll bet some New Brunswickers wish that a day or two on Panama City's beaches was included with their seventy million dollar transportation deal.

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