Town approves UNSM resolutions pertaining to support for ferry service

Tina Comeau
Published on August 15, 2014

Nova Star in port in Yarmouth. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

By Tina Comeau



The UNSM will be asked to endorse resolutions calling on the provincial government to continue to provide funding for the Nova Scotia-New England ferry and calling on the federal government to recognize the crossing as an international highway link between Canada and the United States.

The resolutions, which will be brought forward to a meeting of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, were approved by Yarmouth town council at its Aug. 14 monthly meeting.

One resolution reads: ‘Be it resolved that the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities urge the Province of Nova Scotia to continue to financially support the continuation of the current Nova Scotia to New England Ferry service until such time that the viability of the service can be clearly ascertained.’

Such time, says Yarmouth town council, is not just one season.

Council also says the ferry service needs to be recognized as what it is, a Nova Scotia-New England ferry, and not just as a Yarmouth ferry, which many people see it as. Council says the ship carries passengers who visit and spend money in all parts of the province.

“It helps us, but other parts of the province benefit,” said Councillor Phil Mooney.

In its first year Nova Star Cruises has already had to access all of the $21 million the Nova Scotia government had committed to the service. The money was supposed to be spread over seven years.

The agreement, when first reached between the previous provincial government and the ferry operator, had called on the province to provide half of the $21 million commitment in the company’s first year of operation and $1.5 million annually for the remainder of the seven-year deal. Two million dollars was advanced prior to the service starting to meet US Marine Law requirements that were preventing Nova Star Cruises from marketing the service and selling tickets. The requirement dealt with having money on hand for refunds in the event of cancelled trip. Another $5 million was advanced by the province when the company had not yet been able to secure a $5 million operating line of credit that the State of Maine had indicated, prior to the service launch, that it would assist the company in securing. Nova Star Cruises had accounted for this money in its business plan.

The overall $21 million set aside for the service is less than what an expert panel studying revised ferry service had said would be needed for the start-up and operation of a ferry service. In the panel’s report, it stated, “Based on all of the foregoing estimates, the start-up cost, plus some operating support in the early years, appears likely to total in the range of $30 to $35 million.”

It was noted by town council that there are a lot of negative comments floating around about the ferry service with people prepared to write off the service after just a few months.

Councillor Sandy Dennis voted for the motion to approve the UNSM resolution, but also said, “After this year is over the government and Nova Star both need to be a little more transparent on what’s going on and how the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent.”

She said this may help to address people’s concerns and negate some of the bad comments.

The second resolution pertaining to the ferry looks at the issue of Highway H20, as it’s been nicknamed in the past, this being the crossing between New England and Nova Scotia.

The resolution the town will seek UNSM support on reads: ‘Be it resolved that the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities request that the Government of Nova Scotia enter into discussions with the Government of Canada for the recognition and establishment of the Nova Scotia to New England ferry route to Portland and/or Bar Harbour, Maine as an International Highway link to our neighbours, the United States of America.’

The federal government subsidizes interprovincial ferry routes within Canada, but it doesn’t provide operational funding for the route between Portland and Yarmouth. It did, however, provide $2.5 million for the retrofit and renovation of the Yarmouth ferry terminal.

Last month the federal government announced it would invest $58 million over two years to support three interprovincial ferry services in Eastern Canada. Federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt told the Digby Courier newspaper at the time of the announcement that the federal government still funds the BC Ferry system with $26 million every year even though the federal government hasn’t owned or operated any part of that service since 1977.

In announcing the $58-million investment for Eastern Canada the government noted the tourism, trade and transportation benefits derived from these ferry services. Yarmouth town council feels the same benefits exist through the international ferry service linking Nova Scotia and New England.