In one of his first acts as prime minister, Stephen Harper has halted the federal government sale of the Ridley coal terminal in Prince Rupert to an Ontario mining company.

Harper made the announcement at a Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday.

"I want you to know that last night I signed the order terminating the planned sale of the Ridley terminal.

B.C. coal companies had been worried they would lose access to the government-owned terminal if the sale to Fortune Minerals of London, Ont. went ahead.

The terminal on B.C.'s North Coast has been losing money for years. And the former Liberal government has put it up for sale.

During the recent election campaign, Harper accused the Liberals of being prepared to sell the Prince Rupert terminal at a "fire sale" price.

B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon says he's pleased that Harper has cancelled the sale.

"We're very concerned about the issue of fair and open access to the port facility, and we were working with the federal government to ensure at minimum that they had language that would protect all the B.C. interests."

It's not clear what the federal government's next move will be. But Falcon says whoever owns the Ridley terminal must provide equal access to B.C. shippers.

The terminal was built in the 1980s at a cost of $250 million to ship coal from the new coal mines at Tumbler Ridge in northeastern B.C.

When the mines closed, the terminal's future appeared uncertain. The federal Liberals said they wanted to sell the operation as it was costing them $500,000 a month in subsidies.

But business has been picking up, because of China's increased demand for coal. And Ridley's management predicts shipments will increase dramatically in the next few years.