BY GARY WALKER
The bridge tolls are a 'good news - bad news' story.
First - the good news. In 1873, the Schedule to the Prince Edward Island Terms of Union in the Constitution of Canada required (federal government) steamship service to connect the Island's railway system with that of mainland North America. That’s it for the good news.
Now, the bad news. The fixed crossing, however, required more from P.E.I. The Constitution Amendment Proclamation, 1993 (Prince Edward Island) dealt with this issue, as well as the issue of tolls on the crossing. This amendment, approved by all MLAs in the legislature, gave away, forever, any government controls on a crossing to the mainland. Here is the actual wording:
"That a fixed crossing joining the Island to the mainland may be substituted for the steam service referred to in this Schedule... That, for greater certainty, nothing in this Schedule prevents the imposition of tolls for the use of such a fixed crossing between the Island and the mainland, or the private operation of such a crossing."
There you have it. Read it and weep.
None of the huffing and puffing about bridge tolls will eliminate, or even lower them. The bridge was built - first, for profit (to international shareholders); secondly, for the federal government to get out of the ferry business; and thirdly, for Islanders' convenience.
Yes, I agree, it is convenient. It is also our only route to the Island (in the wintertime), with no back-up plan if weather, or 'heaven's forbid' - a crack, appears.
It's time to read the contract we signed; it was very specific about tolls. Furthermore, the federal government has nothing to do with the bridge, so no need to talk to Ottawa about this. It makes a good story in the newspaper -- 'going to Ottawa and telling them'...'treated unfairly'...'hypocrisy'...etc. but no one forced the tolls on us. We signed on the dotted line.
Also, please remember - the international shareholders, whoever and wherever they are, could care less about Islanders or their problems, no matter how difficult or tragic. Money talks.
I still can't believe that the sitting MLAs passed a Constitutional Amendment letting the federal government off the hook regarding ferry service. But they did. So, we'll continue to pay, until the 30-year contract expires. Then we'll see.
- Gary Walker, Charlottetown, is a retired educator and frequent contributor regarding Island news