Ferry funding essential for eastern P.E.I., trucking company says

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 25, 2016

Morley Annear

Thomas Annear of Montague-based Morley Annear, said money for Northumberland Ferries welcome news

A funding commitment for the P.E.I.-Nova Scotia ferry service will save at least one major eastern P.E.I. trucking company money.

Thomas Annear, assistant operations manager with Montague-based Morley Annear, said hearing there is money in the federal budget for Northumberland Ferries Ltd. is welcome news.

FACT BOX - Ferry funding

"We use it constantly,'' Annear said of the Wood Islands-Caribou, N.S., ferry service. "I'm in the process right this minute of pricing up jobs now with the boat.''

Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay, who also serves as the federal agriculture minister, says Tuesday's budget proposes to provide $51.9 million in 2016-17 on a cash basis to support the continued operation of three ferry services in Atlantic Canada.

The services run between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, Saint John, N.B., and Digby, N.S., and between Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Que., and Souris.

It isn't the long-term funding model that many have sought, but it is stable operational funding.

"My concern is to make sure of the long-term viability and that the system runs at least as efficiently as it does now,'' MacAulay said. "I think any member of Parliament who represents Charlottetown or Cardigan better realize that this is an issue you have to stay on top of.''

The annual federal government subsidy amounts to roughly $5 million in capital funding.

Serge Buy, CEO of the Canadian Ferry Operators Association (CFOA), says the federal government has also given notice that it will support transportation infrastructure for airports and ferries.

"Ultimately, this means that operators will be able to renew their fleets with vessels that are more efficient, safer and better for the environment as well as make strategic investments in infrastructure,'' Buy told The Guardian.

Annear said materials they transport are cheaper at the moment in Nova Scotia than they are in New Brunswick.

"By the time I send my truck from here to Borden and go across and get a load that costs more than the Nova Scotia stuff or if I send my driver across the boat it does make a big difference,'' Annear said.

Extra ferry crossings are key, too, he said. If his driver misses a boat during the shoulder season, it can be a four-hour wait until the next ferry. In a case like that, the driver would simply use the bridge.

MacAulay said there needs to be enough crossings for the trucking industry to make, on average, two round trips in one day.

Annear said the company tends to make fewer freight trips, such as hauling salt or sand, when the ferries are operating.

"What people see getting put on the roads . . . what government pays would increase (without the ferry).''

Belfast-Murray River MLA Darlene Compton has been pushing the provincial government in the legislature to secure long-term funding. She got a commitment from Transportation Minister Paula Biggar last November to do just that.

Compton said Wednesday she's quite happy to be working with MacAulay to ensure the long-term viability of the service.

"It's one of my priorities. It is very important to eastern P.E.I.,'' Compton said, adding that the ferry is a vital like to the mainland for the harness racing industry.

MacAulay vows he will never stop pursuing stable funding over the long haul.

"While I am here (in Parliament) I'm telling you it's a big issue on my plate,'' the minister said.

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Ferry funding

- In 2014, the federal government committed $58 million over two years for three Atlantic Canada ferry services

- In last week's budget, government committed $51.9 million for 2016-17.