Expanding Air Access to NL
John Steele's Speech to Energy NL
Last June, local entrepreneur John Steele made the case for improving air access to Newfoundland and Labrador as an integral part of economic development.
Here is the text of his speech.
We have phenomenal resources and talented people, but without direct access to Heathrow and Newark trying to grow our economy is like going to a gunfight with a knife.
Bond Papers is a reader-supported publication. Become a subscriber.
Thank you to Energy NL for the invitation to speak here today.
Being an outsider to the energy industry, I was surprised and humbled to be asked. When I told my supportive friends that I was speaking, their reaction was “What the hell are you going to talk about at an energy conference?”
Now I know many of you in this room are asking “Who’s this guy?” Good time to go to the bathroom. Maybe even have a smoke.
Truth is, I feel a bit out of my element. I don’t do this very often and to the chagrin of conference organizers, I don’t give long speeches. I know what it’s like to sit there. Especially words from the sponsor. Everyone is there thinking “shut up” just get on with it!
This is fantastic! . . . . The optimism in this room is palatable and as the energy sector goes the provincial economy goes, and right now there are great opportunities in renewable and non-renewable resources and it’s due to these great opportunities, coupled with our strong tourism and cultural industries, I decided to invest and expand my downtown property, Jag Hotel.
I know it’s a shameless plug, but please indulge me. We will be adding 90 guestrooms, a spa/gym, and a multipurpose room that can hold fifteen hundred for a concert, or 600 to 700 people for a function like this. I’m very excited about it, and we hope to be open no later than fourteen months from now. To make a reservation call . . . . just kidding!
The opportunities we have are immediate, they are fleeting and let me emphasize, again, The Time is NOW! We must seize these opportunities.
I love Newfoundland and Labrador, the place and people, but let’s be honest, this place is an exasperating place to do business.
Government has become so big, so entrenched and intrusive, that red tape is a major obstacle to economic development. This has been an issue here for a long, long, time. We need to be competitive on regulations. We need more results, not process. Will this happen? I hope so for the overall benefit of us all. Fair deals for our province and your industry.
Fair deals that will result in a healthier economy from which we can invest in our healthcare and education, which can help us in attracting people to live here and address our demographic challenges.
We punch above our weight in the cultural industries. The number of musicians, actors, writers, painters, from here is truly impressive. Doyle, Hawco, Lisa Moore, David Blackwood.
We were a nation until 1949. As a result, no other place is like us. That uniqueness is a great asset that is priceless. Being open for business only helps us develop and showcase our cultural industries.
It is fabulous to see this conference sold out. To experience the optimism firsthand. People want to connect . . . People need connection. Zoom calls can only provide so much. People need to feel the energy of others. The casual conversation, the in-person interactions that go with building teams and relationships. Connection is the way of business.
The fact that many of you have travelled here great distances, is a testament to that. The fact many of you have travelled well over twenty hours to be here, probably an unnecessary twenty hours, again highlights the importance of connecting.
That’s why we have to reframe how we view air access.
According to official Government of Newfoundland and Labrador documents, in the year 2020 – 2021 the province spent just over 79 million dollars on providing ferry services to primarily ten thousand, six hundred and fifty-two residents. They transported five hundred and thirty-seven thousand passengers. Which generated a total of four-point-nine million dollars revenue.
Therefore, the ferry service was subsidized ninety-three-point- seven percent, which is over seven thousand dollars per resident. Now I understand the political reality for Premier Fury (who I feel is doing a great job), of trying to address this issue. It is very emotional for people, but if we are willing to continue to do this, let’s take the same approach to air access.
My family use to own the regional airline, Eastern Provincial Airways, so I understand the position of the airlines. EPA served Atlantic Canada with routes to Toronto and Montreal. Back in the early eighties, EPA wanted to discontinue service to Deer Lake and continue to service the west coast via Stephenville. People were livid. The public need didn’t align with the corporate need. There were demonstrations etc., it was tense. The service was retained. They weren’t complacent then; we can’t afford to be complacent now.
Today the airline industry is dealing with pilot shortages, expensive labour and overall high operating costs. They have no choice but to focus on profitable routes with high utilization to bigger centers. This will continue for years to come. All the more reason we have to move now and we must be aggressive.
Money talks and we should not be afraid to invest significant, and I mean significant, money to attain direct air access routes to Heathrow and Newark. The oil executive in Stavanger shouldn’t have to go through an ordeal to visit the local St. John’s office. The tourist who sees Come From Away doesn’t want to be worn out when they arrive to see the province who hosted the world during 9/11.
By making access to this province easier, connections to this place, our home, is built. We have phenomenal resources and talented people, but without direct access to Heathrow and Newark trying to grow our economy is like going to a gunfight with a knife.
By investing in attaining these direct routes, it benefits all sectors of our economy. Not only energy, but tourism, technology, aquaculture, mining, fishing, education, the arts community and more.
This investment will benefit all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, both rural and urban. By re-establishing these routes, we will show we are second to no one. It shows we are open and mean business. We are an integral part of this country. We have contributed greatly to this country with our energy, fishing, mining and cultural industries. This contribution will be even greater with the development of our economy. Removing the barriers of direct access to Europe and the United States, will help us significantly.
By replacing our knife at the gunfight with a gun, we will grow and we will all benefit.