Quebec ferry service under microscope with breakdown of one ship, bids for another on hold

On the same day that the PQ demanded the auditor general look into the costly breakdown of the F.-A. Gauthier, now in dry dock in Lévis, Transport Minister François Bonnardel iced plans for a new ferry for the Magdalen Islands.

As PQ calls for auditor general to look into saga of F.-A. Gauthier, CAQ ices plan for new ferry for Maggies

The F.-A.-Gauthier ferry, pictured here in Godbout, Que., is currently undergoing repairs at the Davie shipyard in Lévis. (Marc-Antoine Mongeau/Radio-Canada)

On Thursday — the same day that the Parti Québécois demanded the auditor general look into the costly breakdown of its nearly new ferry, the Felix-Adrien Gauthier — Transport Minister François Bonnardel iced plans for a new ferry for the Magdalen Islands.

The PQ's interim leader, Pascal Bérubé, wants the government to get a full accounting of the ferry that is stuck in dry dock at the Davey shipyard in Lévis when it should be plying the Matane—Baie-Comeau—Godbout route in eastern Quebec.

The F.-A. Gauthier, built in Italy, was put into service less than four years ago, at a cost of $175 million.

"We have to shed some light on what happened, from the initial call for tenders to this day," said Bérubé, the MNA for the Matane-Matapédia riding, whose constituents rely on the ferry service.

A mechanical problem on the F.-A. Gauthier on Dec. 17 forced the government ferry agency, the Société des Traversiers du Québec (STQ), to scramble to find alternatives to get people home for Christmas.

That meant spending $1 million to fly passengers between Matane and Baie-Comeau and to bring in a replacement ship to take over the route from Jan. 8 until the end of the month.

The Minister of Transport François Bonnardel said he is rescinding the Liberal decrees which gave a green light for a call to tenders for a new vessel for the Magdalen Islands ferry service. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The STQ's now had to purchase of a $2.1-million ferry, the NM Apollo, to make the crossing as of Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, it's not yet known what it will cost to repair the F.-A. Gauthier — repairs that should not be necessary so soon after the ship's christening, Bérubé said.

The president and CEO of the STQ, François Chartrand, said Wednesday he will seek reimbursement from Fincantieri, the Italian company that built the ferry.

Chartrand also said the STQ was negotiating the purchase of yet another ferry to avoid another service stoppage in the future.

New ferry for Magdalen Islands up in air

While Bérubé was making his case for scrutinizing one ferry vessel's saga, Transport Minister François Bonnardel cancelled a pair of decrees issued by the former Liberal government that gave the go-ahead to replace an ageing vessel in the fleet that provides ferry service to the Magdalen Islands.

The decrees, issued in August, permitted the company that runs that ferry service, the Coopérative de transport maritime et aérien (CTMA), to issue an international call for tenders to replace the CTMA Vacancier.

However, Bonnardel called the Liberal decrees a "purely vote-seeking move," ordering a review of the entire plan.

He said a committee with representatives from several ministries will hold consultations with people in the Magdalen Islands, with a mandate to report by June 12.

"It's important to study the needs of the population to better adapt these services," he said.

The STQ just spent $2.1 million to buy the NM Apollo, a ferry that until now made the crossing between Blanc-Sablon, Que. and St. Barbe, N.L., to temporarily replace the F.-A. Gauthier on the Matane—Baie-Comeau—Godbout route. (Radio-Canada)

Bonnardel's move left the mayor of the Magdalen Islands, Jonathan Lapierre, shocked and disappointed.

"We have participated in countless government meetings and several consultations," said Lapierre.

"Today all of a sudden, there are no traces of this?"

Bonnardel acknowledged that CTMA and its subsidiary, Navigation Madeleine, provide more than 500 jobs on the archipelago.

"I do not want to put CTMA in jeopardy. We will do everything we can to find the best business model to service Magdalen Islanders for the next 40 years," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada


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