Transport Minister looks at future ferry funding for Atlantic provinces

Jonathan
Jonathan Riley
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New Brunswick Premier David Alward, federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt and Clare-Digby MLA Gordon Wilson at the ferry funding announcement earlier today in Saint John.

The federal Minister of Transport says her department is looking at how to deal with ferries in the east of Canada on a long-term basis.

Lisa Raitt was in Saint John today to confirm $58 million in federal funding for the interprovincial Bay of Fundy, PEI and Newfoundland ferries.

She said that announcement was a two-year commitment instead of the regular one-year commitment to provide more stability to the people and businesses that rely on the ferry services.

More than that, she says her government is already in consultation with stakeholders about the long-term.

“We are looking at how we are going to deal with eastern ferries on long-term basis,” she said. “Our department is already in the process of consulting with the ferry companies.

“And the good news is the communities are all very well engaged; I talked today with your mayor (of Digby, Ben Cleveland) and warden (of the District of Digby, Linda Gregory) and they made their points very clearly.”

[Digital timeline for the history of the Digby-Saint John ferry ]

The minister said the review will of course include how much subsidy the services require.

“I’ll be formulating some suggestions in the next year or so,” she said.

While not commenting on how the funding arrangements might change, she did say that the federal government still funds the BC Ferry system with $26 million every year even though they haven’t owned or operated any part of that service since 1977.

“So there are lots of ways of doing things and my job is to look at the big picture,” she said.

The minister says her department’s review won’t be complete until Digby’s new-to-us ferry is in operation and they see just how much the boat costs to operate.

“With a new boat, we know operating costs are going to decrease, with a newer boat comes lots of efficiencies,” she said. “But we’ll have to wait and see how much.”

She says the Department of Public Works is handling the procurement of the new vessel and she couldn’t provide any details about their progress.

“No one has told me the procurement is off timeline,” she said.

According to the project timeline included in the public notice of the government’s intent to buy a replacement vessel for the Princess of Acadia on the Digby—Saint John run, Public Works was to have selected “the most suitable vessel” by the end of May this year and the new ship was to be in Canada by the end of this month.

The project timeline then set aside six months, until the end of the year for modifying and refitting the vessel, staff training was to take until the end of February and the new-to-us boat was expected to be in operation by April 1, 2015.

The minister would only confirm that the plan is still to put a new-to-us ferry into service sometime in 2015.

While the minister didn’t get a chance to ride any of the local ferries this trip, she said she expects to be in southwestern Nova Scotia in September and hopes she can take a closer look at the ferries then.

Gordon Wilson, the MLA for Clare-Digby in Nova Scotia said he is hopeful the minister’s suggestions will include longer contracts for ferry operation.

“The tour bus industry is a good example,” he said by phone while waiting to board the ferry back to Nova Scotia. “It’s hard to reach out to them without a three- to five-year commitment. That’s why we’re not seeing a lot of tour busses.”

He said longer contracts will also allow the ferry operators themselves to think longer term with promotion and marketing.

“An announcement every two to three years is a blink of an eye,” he said. “A seven-, ten-, fifteen-year contract, that’s an important next step.

“Once the dust settles with the new ferry and we see exactly what we’ve got, I hope they’ll be in a better position to provide long-term support. Our discussions were as simple as that.”

jriley@digbycourier.ca

Organizations: Department of Public Works

Geographic location: Canada, Saint John, Bay of Fundy Newfoundland Nova Scotia Acadia

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