Nova Scotia

Yarmouth ferry ends as funding refused

High-speed ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine will not resume next year.

Tough decision, but the right one, economic development minister says

High-speed ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine will not resume next year.

Bay Ferries Ltd. announced Friday that it's ending the run because it didn't get extra funding from the provincial government for the 2010 season.

Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries, called it "very sad news," but said he understood the province's position given the tough economic times.

"It's an inherently difficult service in that it operates only about 4½ months a year [and has] expensive assets," he told CBC News.

The company wanted at least $6 million to keep the Cat ferry going between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor and Portland, sources tell CBC News.

Percy Paris, minister of economic and rural development, didn't give an exact figure, but said the millions of dollars the ferry company was seeking was just too much.

"We've said that there are going to be tough decisions to make for Nova Scotians and also that we were going to try to live within our means," said Paris.

"This is a tough decision. We don't make these decisions without giving them due consideration. We do our due diligence and somebody has got to come up with the decision. As tough as this is, we believe it's the right one."

The ferry run between Yarmouth and Maine began in 1997. Traffic has plummeted since the early years, MacDonald said, citing a number of factors such as a high Canadian dollar and new U.S. passport rules.

"Over the past three to four years we've seen a big weakening of the U.S. market and other factors like a very high cost of fuel," said MacDonald.

The Nova Scotia government has put $18.9 million into the ferry service since the fall of 2007.

MacDonald acknowledged that the Cat has been able to operate in recent years because of the province's help.

'Devastating' effect

Richard Hurlburt, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Yarmouth, said the NDP government should have helped Bay Ferries while it waited for the results of a federal report into transportation links in the region.

"It's devastating to our community and to the province," Hurlburt said of the government's decision. "This is a great Christmas present from the NDP government. I don't know what else I can say. They're not showing any courtesy to Southwest Nova."

The Cat, which can carry 900 passengers and 240 vehicles, has run every day in the summer, but only five days a week in the spring and fall shoulder season.

Of the 120 people who worked for the ferry service during the peak season, 80 are on the Yarmouth side. MacDonald said the 10 employees still on the payroll may have a chance at jobs at other Bay Ferries operations.

Yarmouth recently lost the only airline flying regularly out of the town. Starlink Aviation pulled out late last month after it went through a $2-million provincial fund in nine months.