Nova Scotia

Nova Star operator could change hands in 2016

Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan says he doesn't know if hiring a new operator for the Nova Star ferry will cost taxpayers money.

The province is seeking a new operator for next year in case this year's ferry season doesn't go well

The provincial government says it is not going to use a request for proposals to seek out a potential new operator for 2016, but will approach those who it thinks might be interested in operating the ferry between Halifax and New England. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan says he doesn't know if hiring a new operator for the Nova Star ferry would cost taxpayers money.

"That's something certainly that we have to determine, but at this point it's about the service," MacLellan said Thursday when asked if there was a penalty in the existing contract for switching operators.

"At this point, there's been a number of moving parts with the whole contract."

The minister says the ferry file recently moved from Economic and Rural Development to his department and he's still getting acquainted with it.

He announced Thursday that the government is not going to use a request for proposals to seek out a potential new operator for 2016, but will approach those who it thinks might be interested in operating the ferry between Halifax and New England.

"What this alternative procurement option does is gives us flexibility," said MacLellan.

The government is making the move after the Nova Star spent the entire $21 million the province set aside to keep the service running for seven years in its inaugural season last year.

In mid-October, the province announced that it was giving another $5 million to the ferry.

In February 2015, the province said it was giving the Nova Star another $13 million to keep the ferry afloat.

Seeking sustainability

MacLellan says the province wants to see the ferry continue, but in a more sustainable way.

Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie says the province rushed into the service last year and should not be doing the same thing for next year.

"The fact that they're a year and a half in and still don't know exactly what they agreed to with Nova Star worries me greatly and it should worry all Nova Scotians," said Baillie.

"This is the minister responsible for making sure we have a sustainable service and I think it's reasonable to expect that he knows the ins and outs of the current ferry contract."

MacLellan said he hopes to have answers about potential penalties soon. The province is hoping Nova Star has a much better 2015 than last year and is seeking a potential new operator for 2016 in case that doesn't happen.

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