New Brunswick

Saint John Harbour Bridge deal may be delayed

The Saint John Harbour Bridge deal may not be completed by the end of the month as planned, CBC News has learned.
The deal with Ottawa to retire the debt on the Saint John Harbour Bridge likely won't close on March 31. ((CBC))

The Saint John Harbour Bridge deal may not be completed by the end of the month as planned, CBC News has learned.

Two sources have said that the federal government has not fulfilled its end of the bargain and cannot do so by March 31 — as agreed to last November — meaning motorists will continue to pay the bridge toll until the summer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined N.B. Premier David Alward in Saint John last November to announce that Ottawa was finally going to forgive the debt on the bridge, and the tolls would be removed as of March 31.

Now, CBC News has learned that the federal government will not be able to forgive the $22-million debt before summer because debt can only be forgiven on the passing of an Appropriations Act. Such an act is passed four times a year; the next time will be in June.  

The Bridge Authority Commission will refuse to hand the bridge over to the province if the debt is not wiped out on time, sources have said, and the tolls won't come off until every aspect of this deal is complete.

Twice this week, a press secretary in the Prime Minister's Office assured CBC News that the deal was on track to close on March 31.

Saint John Conservative MP Rodney Weston also said everything is on track.  

Tuesday, Alward's office directed questions about the deal to Transportation Minister Claude Williams, who was unavailable to comment.

But Williams's communications officer said the province and the bridge authority are in discussions. He said that was all he could say about the matter.