Labrador ferry service contract scrubbed amid budget crisis
Transportation minister says request for proposals no longer being considered
Plans to award an enhanced and long-term ferry service contract for Labrador are no longer being pursued because of the province's staggering fiscal challenges, with the MHA for southern Labrador fuming.
Transportation and Works Minister David Brazil made the announcement Thursday, the same day that the government brought down a budget that included tax and fee hikes, heavy borrowing and job losses.
"I believe my reaction is exactly that of the people of all of Labrador — absolute outrage," said Lisa Dempster, the MHA for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.
The province had issued a call for proposals in late 2013 for a single contractor to provide freight and passenger services for both the north coast of Labrador and the Strait of Belle Isle.
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It was revealed earlier this month that two bids — one by Oceanex and the other by the Woodward Group of Companies — were being considered.
However, Brazil confirmed that the proposals were "considerably higher" than anticipated.
"This would be a significant investment of up to $1.5 billion for a period of up to 25 years. Given that cost, it is not the right time to move forward with this RFP in this current fiscal climate," Brazil said in a statement.
The Strait of Belle Isle contract is currently held by the Woodward Group, which uses the Apollo on the run from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon.
Nunatsiavut Marine uses the Northern Ranger to serve the north coast.
'We're in a mess'
Dempster pulled no punches on the government's decision while speaking with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning on Friday morning.
"We're in a mess. We're in a huge financial mess because of this government's failure to plan. We had a provincial ferry strategy. We have seen Fogo, Bell Island, they got new ferries — no disrespect, these people should. But once again, Labrador is last."
Dempster said government knew the fiscal reality of the province, when Finance Minister Ross Wiseman provided an update in December.
"This ferry is an essential service for the people of all of Labrador. They put out the RFP, it was delayed three times. For the minister to say this is a long-term commitment, absolutely it's a long-term commitment. We're severed from an island," she said.
"Let's remind the people that this government has had $25 billion in oil money," she said.
"Now on the flipside, yes, we are going into the biggest deficit that this province have ever known, that's how badly they have bungled. With proper planning, and $25 billion in oil — we should have had a boat."
Dempster said that government has reneged on its promise to Labrador, adding under a Liberal government, an essential service, like the ferry would continue.
"When you are in a huge financial mess, you don't ask the people to pay for that. I mean an increase in the taxes, it's a job killer, it stunts growth," she said.
"The premier was on this morning and he said, 'As a government we want to treat people right to find balance and fairness.' Well reneging on a promise to Labrador is unfair, and it doesn't treat people right. This government in its dying days has written off the people of Labrador, and come election time I can tell you that the people of Labrador is done with them."
Planning work will continue
Brazil said the government will continue planning and working to improve ferry service for residents of the north and south coasts of Labrador.
Let's remember, at a time when some very difficult decisions are being made, there is no change being made to the ferry service for Labrador. We are simply not pursuing this particular RFP.- Transportation Minister David Brazil
"Let's remember, at a time when some very difficult decisions are being made, there is no change being made to the ferry service for Labrador. We are simply not pursuing this particular RFP," he said.
"Our goal is to find the right service for the area and residents that is affordable and sustainable."
Discussions will commence soon on a way forward, beginning with the re-establishment of an advisory committee on Labrador transportation.
The committee will be in place within a month, said Brazil, and will be followed by consultation sessions in communities that rely on the service.