Yarmouth ferry 'bad deal for taxpayers,' PC Leader Jamie Baillie says

The leader of Nova Scotia's Official Opposition, Jamie Baillie, says he believes taxpayers may end up footing a much larger bill for the resurrected fast ferry between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.

Province will spend more than $32 million over 2 years to support ferry service to Portland, Maine

The CAT, a high-speed ferry, will carry about 700 passengers between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine, beginning June 15. (Bay Ferries Ltd.)

The leader of Nova Scotia's Official Opposition, Jamie Baillie, says he believes taxpayers may end up footing a much larger bill for the resurrected fast ferry between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.  

The province announced last Thursday that it will spend more than $32 million over the next two years to support the new ferry service.

The contract between Bay Ferries Ltd. and the province runs 10 years. The agreement is explicit about any losses incurred by the ferry operator.

In exchange for daily ferry service between June 1 and Sept. 30, the agreement says Nova Scotia agrees to pay "an operating subsidy for each year it operates the ferry service in an amount equal to the cash deficiency for the year."

All-American crew

In other words, the province is on the hook for any deficits racked up by Bay Ferries in running the service. That's on top of an undisclosed annual management fee.

"The McNeil government got hosed," Baillie said Tuesday. "I do not accept that this was the best deal that could be made. It is a bad deal for taxpayers. It will cost too much money."

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says the McNeil government 'got hosed' in its deal with Bay Ferries. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The Progressive Conservative leader is also upset the ferry will not allow trucks to use the service.

"Nova Scotian industry, such as our lobsters, will have a new obstacle to getting to market," he said.

But Premier Stephen McNeil remained unwavering in his support for a service he claimed had the backing of businesses across Nova Scotia.

"They've said loud and clear, this piece of infrastructure has driven investment in their businesses and in their bottom lines to grow opportunities and jobs in not only southwestern Nova Scotia, but in other parts of the province," he said.

Lobster industry concerns brushed aside

The premier also suggested the amount of the subsidy to Bay Ferries may diminish over time because the agreement lowballs the expected number of passengers.

The more profitable the service, the less the province will have to kick in to cover operational costs.

"The numbers in terms of passengers is low," said McNeil.

"We believe we can achieve that — which, in turn, reduces the exposure to the people of Nova Scotia. On top of that we made sure that anywhere possible — whether it's purchasing goods and services or hiring people — they would be Nova Scotians.

"The only place that's not taking place is on the vessel itself because that is where it is flying under foreign flag."

The agreement stipulates the ship would be staffed by U.S. crew members — something Baillie is also unhappy about.

McNeil brushed aside concerns that lobster exporters would lose out because transport trucks aren't allowed on the ferry. He suggested the industry has it good this year, thanks to the province's marketing efforts.

"Find me a time in our history, recently, that you were buying lobster in this province in December for $7, $8 a pound. It's been much lower," McNeil said Tuesday.

"All of that investment has been through opening up market opportunities, with industry government working together to find opportunity to grow the sector."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.