Digby Ferry needs funding: Atlantic mayors

Atlantic Canada's mayors call on the federal government and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to bring in long-term funding to support the Digby Ferry.
The Princess of Acadia ferry docks in Saint John. Atlantic mayors are calling for funding to keep the Saint John to Digby ferry alive.
Atlantic Canada's mayors want the federal, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick governments to bring in long-term funding to support the Digby Ferry.

Bay Ferries Ltd. has required short-term injections of government money to keep the Digby Ferry service alive in recent years.

Atlantic mayors passed a resolution at a Wednesday meeting in Saint John to keep the ferry service between Saint John and Digby, N.S. in operation.

Saint John Mayor Ivan Court, who is chairing the Atlantic Mayors Congress this week, said the federal government subsidizes ferries in British Columbia and the Digby Ferry should receive similar treatment.

"Two provinces came to the table for the service in the past. We heard today from Nova Scotia that they've heard that the province of Nova Scotia is on line to sit down and work at making sure this service continue on in the future," Court said on Wednesday.

The federal government used to spend $8 million annually to operate the ferry until the service was privatized in 1997.

Bay Ferries Ltd. operated the service without any subsidies after it was privatized until 2006.

Saint John Mayor Ivan Court is urging the federal government, along with the N.B. and N.S. governments, to fund the Digby Ferry. ((CBC))
At that point, the federal government, along with the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia governments, kicked in emergency funding to keep the ferry service running.

The various governments have poured $23 million to keep the Princess of Acadia running in the last four years.

That funding runs out at the end of January and so far there is no commitment by the federal government to put more money into the service.

In August, Bay Ferries announced the Princess of Acadia would add three extra crossings weekly after reporting a 25-per-cent jump in passenger numbers last summer.

Donald Cormier, the general manager of Bay Ferries, said the Princess of Acadia has about five years left in it and then decisions will have to be made on investing in a new ferry, which is estimated to cost $100 million

"The funding level would certainly be less than $5 million to maintain the status quo," Cormier said.

"But the more important question is the governments need to decide in terms of reinvestment in the service as well."

If the various levels of government do decide to pump more money into the ferry service, one Nova Scotia-based economic development agency says studies have shown it is worth the public investment.

Mike Gushue, the managing director of the Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency, has been working to save the Digby ferry. He said a recent study demonstrated the into the ferry is worth it for taxpayers.

"It showed that taxpayers get a very good return on the investment. For every dollar of taxpayers' money that goes into the service, there is 1.5 dollars that goes into the local economy," Gushue said.