© THE CANADIAN PRESS
Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look on as Lawrence MacAulay is sworn in as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food during ceremonies at Rideau Hall Wednesday Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa.
Lawrence MacAulay must remember he is no longer just the Member of Parliament for Cardigan. The federal minister of agriculture is now P.E.I.’s representative around the cabinet table in Ottawa. He has to broaden his arguments and his perspectives to encompass of all Prince Edward Island. He is our provincial minister.
The time is past when Mr. MacAulay can simply voice his unflinching support for the ferry service between Wood Islands and Caribou at the expense of everything else.
His recent comments that eliminating tolls on the Confederation Bridge would threaten the Northumberland Ferries Ltd. service are a case in point.
The debate over bridge tolls has intensified in recent months since Sen. Percy Downe raised the intriguing issue of fairness.
He cites the decision by Ottawa not to charge tolls to cross the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal — a radical departure in federal policy concerning transportation infrastructure projects. He says what’s fair for Montreal and Quebec should also be fair for Prince Edward Island.
Ottawa changed the rules to benefit Montreal and it should at least check if a better deal for Islanders is possible by renegotiating the contract with the operators of the bridge.
There is nothing wrong with Mr. MacAulay’s fervent support for the ferry service. All Islanders — especially those in the eastern and central areas of the province — strongly support a continuation of the essential link to Nova Scotia.
The jobs, convenience for Islanders and the shorter connection for truckers and shippers are vitally important.
But Mr. MacAulay also must appreciate that eliminating or reducing tolls on the bridge would have an extremely positive economic impact on the entire province.
He must look at the big picture. Action on bridge tolls would impact costs for imports and exports and attract more tourists. It would jump-start our economic engine.
Ferry service and bridge tolls should not be mutually exclusive. If the bridge tolls should drop or end, there is no reason why the ferry service should be fatally threatened.
As a transportation link and tourist attraction, it would still be very popular. Many eastern P.E.I. travellers heading to Halifax or Cape Breton would prefer the ferry to a three-hour drive around to Truro.
The gas costs alone would come close to the ferry tolls.
Sen. Downe already dealt with the ferry issue is an opinion piece published recently in The Guardian. He provided rebuttal to the predictable “sky is falling reaction” from Mr. MacAulay and others.
The senator argues that Ottawa would still support the seasonal ferry service because it is important, not only to P.E.I. but Nova Scotia as well.
With his lukewarm views on reducing or eliminating bridge tolls, Mr. MacAulay is jeopardizing whatever chance the province has for Ottawa to intervene or at least re-examine the high costs of crossing the Confederation Bridge.
His comments that, “If the bridge was suddenly free, you wouldn’t see a car at the Wood Islands or Caribou ferry,” are wildly exaggerated.
His reticence matches that of Premier Wade MacLauchlan who thinks there are more important economic issues to discuss with Ottawa than bridge tolls.
Sen. Downe says it will take a resolution from the P.E.I. legislature to at least get Ottawa’s attention. Opposition members are ready to raise the issue in the spring sitting.
Warmer support from our federal cabinet minster would be a major boost as well.
Our federal minister has defined his career to date by supporting the ferry service. He can further enhance his legacy as a statesman by expanding his horizons in defence of the entire province.
As minister of agriculture, he can’t take sides to support one sector of the industry over another, or support one province over another.
Mr. MacAulay must support and defend all Canadian farmers and others in Canadian agriculture.
Our federal cabinet minister must apply that perspective to issues within his own province as well.