Senator Percy Downe calls on Island MLAs to join fight against tolls

Dave Stewart
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FILE PHOTO: The Guardian's front page celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Confederation Bridge..

Downe says first step is having P.E.I.’s MLAs pass a resolution during the next sitting of legislature

P.E.I. Senator Percy Downe hopes to add the weight of the province’s legislature in his fight against tolls on Confederation Bridge.

Downe said Friday the first step is having P.E.I.’s MLAs pass a resolution during the next sitting in support of his efforts.

“A full debate on the issue of tolls could be initiated by our MLAs,’’ Downe said. “After a careful and complete review of the facts in question, hopefully a resolution could be passed requesting that Islanders receive equal treatment to the citizens of Quebec.’’

Downe recently took issue with the federal government which is living up to its election promise and will not charge tolls on Champlain Bridge in Montreal. That bridge will be built with public money and cost roughly four times what it took to complete Confederation Bridge.

The bridge between P.E.I. and New Brunswick was a public-private project. A consortium of international companies are making money off an agreement with the federal government based on a subsidy paid to the Crown corporation that ran the ferry service. That consortium also takes in toll revenue.

Downe has written the three Island parties represented in the P.E.I. legislature and shared information he has collected on the question of tolls over the past two years. He is also prepared to brief the respective caucuses.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said Downe’s research indicates that the $42 million subsidy the feds and Strait Crossing agreed to in 1996 was indexed and is now worth about $64 million per year. Combined with toll revenue, which has never been made public, the belief is the bridge generates between $50 million and $80 million per year. That agreement is in place until 2032.

Bevan-Baker said there’s no question Strait Crossing is making money.

“Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me,’’ he said. “We signed up for this 35-year agreement but that’s not to say that we can’t get out of it. I don’t think it would be easy.’’

Premier Wade MacLauchlan said the deal Champlain Bridge got could work in P.E.I.’s favour one way or another.

“If that doesn’t re-open the deal it may give us some leverage in some of our other relations with Ottawa,’’ MacLauchlan said in a year-end interview with The Guardian to be published Dec. 26. “And I think that’s really the key today as we work with a new federal government. It’s a moment of special opportunity and we should be pursuing that.’’

Opposition Leader Jamie Fox said it’s a worthy discussion to have in the legislature.

“But we must be cognizant of the Wood Islands ferry and how important it is down east,’’ Fox said. “Both are crucial to the economic growth of the province.’’

Fox said the fee to leave the province is hardest on those who have to travel to the mainland for medical appointments.

Downe said the premier of Quebec initially didn’t oppose tolls on Champlain Bridge, changed his mind and rallied the province.

“I think that says it all,’’ the senator said.

Organizations: Green Party, The Guardian

Geographic location: P.E.I., Quebec, Montreal New Brunswick Ottawa Wood Islands

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Recent comments

  • Pat McGowan
    December 21, 2015 - 11:37

    I think Mr.Downe should find another crusade.Does he not realize that a free passage over the bridge would spell the end of the ferry.Eastern PEI depends on NFL!!!!!

    • Kay Parks
      December 22, 2015 - 00:16

      The bridge and the ferry are 2 different entities. How would not having bridge tolls threaten the ferry service? Does it not say somewhere in the Constitution that Prince Edward Islanders would have free passage to the mainland? '

  • Great Idea
    December 21, 2015 - 10:00

    A negotiated buyout of the public-private partnership agreement between the Government and Strait Crossing (which would cost MILLIONS, as they likely have outstanding financing up until 2030 that would have to be paid out; and then a new maintenance agreement for the bridge. While Senator Downe has the right idea, this situation is far different from the Champlain Bridge in Montreal. There will not be free tolls on that bridge in the foreseeable future.

  • no thanks
    December 20, 2015 - 14:09

    talk about closing the door after the senators all got caught with their pockets full !!!!!

  • Islander
    December 19, 2015 - 14:02

    Please , instead of mulling over someones comments, make your own. Something Islander said must have hit a nerve. You should lighten up, feel good each day, enjoy life and get your head out of the fog

    December 19, 2015 - 13:23

    One comment here was Why don't our 4 Federal members fight for this. The only time these people are even seen is at election time. Expect no backing from them or our Provincial Government either unless there is something in it for them. Reality hurts doesn't it?

  • de udder guy
    December 19, 2015 - 13:06

    Where was this voice of the people (cough, cough) since his appointment to the bacon table?

  • Angus
    December 19, 2015 - 11:41

    As has been amply demonstrated, Trudeau was willing to make any and all promises to the Premier of Quebec and his former Liberal colleague Denis Coderre during the campaign, that would help him, no matter how it hurt the taxpayers. Thus the removal of tolls from the new Montreal bridge, the millions to light it up and of course the dumping of sewage into the St. Lawrence river. And it's only started. Quebec Liberals have created the largest Canadian scandals of all time in the past, there's no reason not to expect more. C'est le temp de porc.

  • MFH
    December 19, 2015 - 11:13

    All islanders need to raise their voices now in order to have this toll removed. It is a regressive fee that hinders us in a number of ways. We should be entitled to travel to and from other provinces without paying ,the same way as most other Canadians.

    • Andy MacDonald
      December 21, 2015 - 08:24

      So the same should apply to residents of Newfoundland and Vancouver Island?

  • Done with the Senate
    December 19, 2015 - 10:42

    One has to ask the question why now Mr Downe, the bridge has been there a long time and has always had a toll, and I did not hear you complain prior to becoming a part of the Senate. You and I both know there will always be a charge for anyone and if there was not a charge,have you given any thought what would happen to the Ferry Service and its workers. I do not like paying to leave the Island but I also do not like anyone playing with people either. Move on to something else please, there is a reason why other people are not on board with you ie the 4 federal members, the provincial members, and yes the other senators no wait a minute we are missing one or is it two because I personally do not count Mr Duffy for obvious reasons, so again move on.

  • Ralph
    December 19, 2015 - 10:07

    Here's a better proposal, lets get rid of Percy and that political repository that is the senate...

    • Even Better
      December 19, 2015 - 14:01

      An even better proposition would be for us to top letting idiots post on the Guardian when they don't have a single useful thing to say. If you don't agree with his proposal perhaps you could explain why.

  • enough already
    December 19, 2015 - 08:27

    We have four federal members , why are they not fighting for us?

      December 19, 2015 - 10:24

      Starting to miss Gail Shea already are we? As I said many times in the past, these Liberal MPs have done very little for PEI.Remember, it was Joe Ghiz, Liberal premier, who concocted this deal. Don't Islanders ever get sick of electing Liberals? Oh yeah, they give us enhanced EI, which is not available outside the Maritimes.

    • Useless
      December 19, 2015 - 20:41

      Shea was a useless little pawn of harper. Not sure why you people keep fawning over her and pretending she did ANYTHING for PEI. By your own argument you should be glad she is gone because all of you loud mouth supporters of shea said you needed her because of a conservative federal government. Guess what honey. The federal government is LIBERAL now so get over it. YOU LOST.

    • mutt
      December 20, 2015 - 04:19

      Because the Senate is trying to save itself. They we all probably told to get out to your respective provinces and 'find a cause' to help keep us alive. Sooth the savage beast...

  • Islander
    December 19, 2015 - 07:29

    This is something to followup. They fees sh0uld be lifted, If Montreal/Quebec are getting a free toll bridge than we shold beb trested equal, no question, This is a Charter or Rights issue dealing with fairness for all. This must be pursued with consultaions wiit Ilsanders who are must effected An opportunity here for the Oppossition to make sure this happeneds

    • Please
      December 19, 2015 - 12:27

      Islander, it is clear English is not your first language but please find a better translator or a friend to help you. It would be too embarrassing to think an Island educated person can be this illiterate.

    • Andy MacDonald
      December 21, 2015 - 08:26

      And the ferry to Newfoundland should be 100% free, just like the Borden - Cape Tormentine ferry used to be, right? Right?