A Progressive Conservative promise to offer a free ferry to Grand Manan is stoking fears on the Bay of Fundy island that it could paralyze the service.

More than a year ago the Liberal government announced construction of a new $65-million ferry to shuttle visitors to the island from mainland New Brunswick.

The island's new ferry, which will be delivered next June after it's built in Florida, will bring the summer car capacity to 1,000 up from 630 per day.

Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward ignited a debate on the island when he promised he would lift the ferry fees if he is elected on Sept. 27. That promise would cost taxpayers $1.7 million.

That promise is causing many residents on the island to question whether it would be a good idea because it could drive up the number of people using the service.

Calvin Smith takes a moment from loading his boat at the Seal Cove Wharf to ponder a topic on many minds here this week.

"At first I thought it was great but then when you thought about it," he said.

While the Tories are campaigning on a free ferry, the Liberals are trumpeting the fact they delivered on bringing a new ferry to the island.

Signs for Liberal candidate Rick Doucet, who is running for re-election in Charlotte-The Isles, reminds voters with the slogan, "Lets all enjoy riding our new ferry next summer."

Former Liberal MLA Eric Allaby, who lives on the island, said the Shawn Graham government actually delivered on a commitment to build a new ferry after years of delay.

"A lot of work went into the planning, and it sort of gathered dust for a few years, and then it was resurrected in 2006," Allaby said.

Uncertainty over PC promise

Several island-based industries, such as aquaculture companies, rely on the ferry to move goods on time.

Bev Fleet, owner of Dutchmen Trucking, said there is a worry that a free ferry will cause a free-for-all at the terminal and would paralyze the ferry service.

"We can book here on the island and we do have an advantage," Fleet said.

"But on the other hand, it's first come first served, so if it's crowded we don't get our trucks on."

Others believe concerns about traffic tie-ups are overstated.

The island's Tourism Association and Chamber of Commerce has agreed free fares would be a benefit to its members.

Jim Leslie, who owns the Marathon Inn, said it could help attract more people to his business.

"What we really do need, if we want to do business on Grand Manan, is traffic," Leslie said.

"People that are worried about the ferry being busy are probably worried for nothing."