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

Dave Stewart
Published on December 19, 2015

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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.