AMHERST – Cumberland North’s MLA says she will continue to push the provincial government on removing tolls on the Cobequid Pass as soon as possible.
Speaking to the Amherst News in a year-end interview, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said the province is continuing to mislead Nova Scotians when it comes to when the toll will be removed on the 44-kilometre toll highway that opened just over 20 years between Thomson Station and Glenholme.
“There is enough money in the Western Alignment Corporation to pay off the remaining debt on the highway and remove the toll, but they say they’re keeping the toll in place to pay for maintenance on the highway and are saying the debt will not be paid off until 2019,” Smith-McCrossin said. “The rest of the roads in Nova Scotia are funded through the gas tax, why should this one be any different.”
The timing of tolls was an issue during last spring provincial election when both Smith-McCrossin and Cumberland South MLA and PC leader Jamie Baillie accused the province of playing a shell game with the toll highway that opened in 1997 to bypass what was then a dangerous stretch of highway through the Wentworth Valley.
Even when the tolls are removed, Smith-McCrossin is concerned commercial vehicles will have to continue paying the toll – something she feels will continue to cripple commerce in Cumberland County.
“We will have businesses in this part of Nova Scotia that will not have a level playing field with their competitors in the rest of the province. That’s the way things are now and we cannot allow this unfair situation to continue after the tolls have been removed for all other vehicles,” Smith-McCrossin said. “We should be treated the same as the rest of Nova Scotia.”
Smith-McCrossin said she hopes to continue working on the strategic plan she unveiled in the weeks following last May’s provincial election when she became the first PC MLA in Cumberland North since Ernest Fage in the mid-2000s.
One of the things she wants to do is grow the economy of Cumberland North and work to eliminate some of the bureaucracy that exists at the provincial level – something she believes is stifling business in this part of the province.
She also wants to work with stakeholders such as off-highway groups to increase tourism in the region while working with the province to bring a fairer commercial tax system and helping private woodlot owners have fairer access to markets.
The MLA has already held a pair of public meetings to improve the border entrance area around Amherst and both the Municipality of Cumberland and Amherst appear interested in working to bring more people off the Trans-Canada Highway at the border.
She also wants to work with the provincial mining association to determine if there are responsible opportunities in the county that would help people get back to work and out of poverty.
As health critic for the Progressive Conservatives, she said she will continue to push the Health and Wellness Department to fix a broken health care system she feels is now too centralized in Halifax.
“The centralized system is not working. The board is not talking to the community and is not listening to what it has to say,” she said. “I also find it inexplicable that there are no health professionals on the health authority board, there are no doctors or nurses there.”
Smith-McCrossin said one of her biggest goals in 2018 is to make sure Cumberland North gets its fair share of government investment – something she feels has been lacking for too long.
“I want Cumberland North to get its piece of the pie,” she said. “Right now I don’t believe that’s happening. The money is there, we’re just not getting our share.”
She also wants to push for additional support for the local agriculture industry so it can address food security. The county has 30 per cent of the province’s arable farmland, but there is very little, if any, provincial funding coming into the county for agriculture.