The Minister of Indigenous Services, Seamus O’Regan, was in Paqtnkek First Nation Aug. 26 to celebrate work around the Highway 104 interchange project and the Bayfield Travel Centre, which is nearing completion towards an expected October grand opening.
“Total contribution through a program called the Community Opportunity Readiness Program – through the federal government and Indigenous Services Canada – $2.9 million dealing with infrastructure related costs, and then a further $1 million related to the build itself of the Bayside Travel Centre,” Paqtnkek Chief Paul ‘PJ’ Prosper said, when asked about federal financial contributions being talked about on the day.
“That contribution significantly helps our community to position ourselves to provide the services we feel we need to provide.”
Prosper said the day represents a “milestone” in the history of Paqtnkek.
“For many years, we’ve been looking to address specific issues related to our lands; access to lands to the south of our community.
“With the highway development project and, now, more recently, Bayside Travel, we’re able to more realize that dream of having access to the south side of our community and also to provide much needed economic development for our community,” Prosper said, before turning his attention to expressing gratitude to the many who came together for the projects.
“There have been many people who have contributed to the success of this – the federal and provincial governments certainly have,” he said. “And so, it’s to recognize all of those partners and persons who have dedicated significant time, effort and resources, in the form of financial resources, to allow our community to be in the position we are today.
“It allows us to, again, seize opportunity, generate revenues from much needed programs and services within the community and to provide a real tangible source of employment, not only for community members but also the surrounding communities as well. We’re very grateful for this opportunity.”
Regan had a quick response when asked why the project was important to his government.
“It’s important because Paqtnkek has told us it’s important,” the MP from St. John’s South–Mount Pearl, said.
“First and foremost, they see this as key to self-sufficiency, economic self-determination and prosperity. We’ve learned now to listen, which I think is really important.”
The St. F.X. alumni provided a personal anecdote about the practical importance of the Travel Centre which will include 24-hour gas station and other truck-stop services.
“I feel like I could have made part of the business case because, as a former resident of MacIsaac House at St.F.X., on the fourth floor with a window facing the highway, I know how many 18-wheelers came by because those breaks would wake you up at all hours,” O’Regan said. “There is a lot of traffic that comes through here; they made the business case and we were happy to help.”
Talking more about the traffic, it was noted the location of the Travel Centre will be roughly half-way between Antigonish and Auld’s Cove, the next closest locations along the 104 where those services can be accessed.
“We reached out to our neighbouring communities in all directions and a lot of people have indicated it’s a welcomed development; that they’re looking forward to it,” Prosper said.
“The way they look at it is, it helps the region. It not only helps Paqtnkek but it helps the surrounding communities as well to recognize opportunities such as this.”
O’Regan also addressed location.
“It plays on strengths and that is when you know you have a sustainable economic; it’s a recognizable strength and the location is a big one,” he said.
Asked about tenants, Prosper said they’re close to announcing the businesses but with still some “T’s to be crossed and I’s to be dotted,” he wasn’t quite in a position to acknowledge them yet.
Prosper was asked if other First Nation developments are serving as models for Paqtnkek.
“Certainly, as you can see from other communities like Millbrook, Membertou, Madawaska and Glooscap, with access to a major roadway like the Trans-Canada Highway – the 104 in this case – it will allow traffic to come into the community for persons to purchase gas, utilize various businesses, things of that nature, which will allow our revenues to grow, which will, again, help us develop major programming for future generations within the community,” he said.
“So it’s reflective of how those bands have been able to seize opportunity in that regards, similarly.”
O’Regan took the opportunity to recognize Prosper’s work in not only his own community but for First Nation communities nationwide.
“The Chief has been a national leader on two fronts I have to acknowledge,” he said.
“One is his leadership on child and family services, which has been big. There have been a number of other First Nations and indigenous communities who have been hesitant. He, very early on, understood how more control held by communities is a good thing.
“And on transfers over to 10-year grants, which basically means that, for some communities which can meet criteria we have, they don’t have to reapply for grants every year, which just takes up the time of very senior staff in the communities for First Nations. Now they can start talking about economic development, prosperity and self-determination; this is a significant step and one we hope to emulate across the country.”
O’Regan also dealt with the question about the good news timing with a federal election looming.
“I always say to people who say that, I wish we were that well organized, we’re not,” he said.
“I think, like many people, we work to the deadline and this is a big imposing deadline, obviously. Thoughts on this leading up to an election; it’s important that is not holding up really important projects like this, no matter how it may be interpreted. Now is when it’s ready … let’s get’er done.”