The federal government will spend $19 million over the next three months to dredge the Sydney harbour in an effort to strengthen Cape Breton’s economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.

The port city has plans to develop a $200-million container terminal, which will require a deeper harbour channel to allow passage of larger ships.

“Before Sydney and all of Cape Breton can have a stronger role in the modern, globalized economy, we need to make some improvements,” Harper said.

“The access channel must be deeper to get the larger ships into Sydney. By dredging Sydney harbour, we can unlock Cape Breton’s true economic potential.”

The Sydney Marine Group — the main proponent of the project — estimates the digging will cost $38 million.

In June, the Nova Scotia government committed to contributing $15.2 million, and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality agreed in May to spend $2 million.

But Bill Black, a former Nova Scotia Conservative leadership candidate, has suggested the business case for a terminal has not been made. He said the demand may not be there for another container terminal, particularly since the Port of Halifax is operating well below capacity.