Nfld. & Labrador

'The buck doesn't stop anywhere': N.L. ferry users sound off following scathing AG report

According to Katherine Walters, who lives on Bell Island and has advocated for more government accountability related to the ferries, the report is the latest in a string of concerns.

New report shows lack of accountability, oversight from province

Katherine Walters, who has lived on Bell Island for 10 years, says the province needs to be held accountable on ferries. (Submitted by Katherine Walters)

A report from Newfoundland and Labrador's auditor general detailing the provincial government's mismanagement of procuring two ferries, and the significant operational delays that followed, should come as no surprise, according to those who rely on the vessels.

The report, released Wednesday, raises numerous concerns related to the Department of Transportation's procurement of the MV Veteran and MV Legionnaire ferries — like a lack of training and oversight — that likely contributed to a combined 607 days out of service in the vessels' first three years of service.

The Veteran and the Legionnaire serve Fogo Island and Bell Island, respectively.

According to Katherine Walters, who lives on Bell Island and has advocated for more government accountability related to the ferries, the report is the latest in a string of concerns.

"Part of what stood out the most for me here is there's an absolute lack of accountability at any stage in this process," Walters told CBC News on Sunday.

'How does the department get away with this?'

Walters said the need for accountability stretches back to the purchase and construction of the MV Veteran and MV Legionnaire. The two vessels cost the province about $120 million and were too large to fit onshore infrastructure at the time.

"How does that happen?" she asked. "When you go to buy a pair of shoes, you know what size you need."

"This is the latest instalment in a string of reports that shows that nobody is being held accountable. For how this essential service is being provided … the buck doesn't stop anywhere."

Walters also pointed to a section of the report that showed government did not sufficiently plan for crew training needs.

According to the report, the lack of training "may have led to human errors that caused three thruster failures, resulting in 250 out of service days in total."

"I look at this and I think, 'How does the department get away with this?' Because I can tell you, a health authority wouldn't, for taking money that was allocated for critical training," Walters said.

"I can't see health authorities saying, 'Well, you know, we decided to only train half as many people as we should have on the new dialysis equipment because we had a shortage in our budget to cover dressings and long-term care.'"

In their first three years, the MV Veteran, seen here under construction, and the MV Legionnaire spent a combined 607 days out of service. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Walters said it's important for the provincial government to prioritize ferries as much as roads, because ferries represent the link for areas that rely on them to the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There isn't a community in this province that could afford to be cut off from the rest of the world physically, and we're no different," she said.

Ferry delays can mean a variety of issues, including missing medical appointments, losing out on business and — according to Deb Reynolds of Change Islands — losing an added layer of food security.

"If you leave it three or four days, there's not much left. And if the ferry doesn't run for four days, then there's nothing left. So food security is definitely a big thing," Reynolds said.

Cliff Rowe, who owns Fogo Island Freight, relies on the ferry for business every day. (Submitted by Cliff Rowe)

"Any disruption in that, it causes chaos," added Cliff Rowe, who owns a freight business that often brings groceries to Fogo Island. 

"You go down to the local store there, and they got no milk. They got no eggs, they got no meat. The everyday things, they run short."

Although Walters says the problems within the ferry service run deep, she — along with Rowe and Reynolds — hope the government can be more open and willing to discuss concerns with residents.

"There needs to be accountability from the minister on down. There needs to be someone to call to get answers," Reynolds said. 

"The lack of communication is incredible.… In a private company, the management would have been fired long ago."

"Let's sit down with the people who rely on the service," added Walters.

 "And let's see if we can reset the clock and find a better way forward, to use … the government's own phrase."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Kennedy

Journalist

Alex Kennedy works for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

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