Transportation

‘A lot at stake:’ Bay Ferries deal challenged by opposition leaders

PC party suing Liberals, citing lack of transparency

Opposition leaders threw more criticism at the provincial government’s relationship with Bay Ferries, after the transportation minister didn’t have answers to their questions.

PC Leader Tim Houston and NDP Leader Gary Burrill are critical of the Liberal government’s decision to subsidize the company’s terminal renovations in Bar Harbor, Maine. There is no lease agreement for the ferry service to dock in the U.S. town, despite the province and Bay Ferries signing a 10-year route contract in 2016.

“Constantly, they are hiding information,” Houston told reporters on Thursday. “What we do know is embarrassing and I’m worried about what’s lurking below the surface that they’re hiding that we don’t know.

“It’s very scary to have the minister paying for renovations for a facility in another country where he doesn’t even have a contract that we’d be able to use that facility.”

Earlier Thursday, Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines told reporters despite being confident in the economic benefits of the ferry, he didn’t know much about the renovation. Specifically, he didn’t know how much renovations cost overall or when the new ferry route will be ready this year. The renovation is part of an effort to transfer the route from Portland to Bar Harbor.

Houston’s party is suing the Liberal government for refusing to release details on management fees to maintain the route.

Despite his criticisms, Houston is not against the concept of a ferry.

“This is a ferry that has potential to do good things for our economy,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here and to see it be so mismanaged is very scary.”

Burrill also sees potential in the service, calling it an “essential piece of our transportation infrastructure,” but questioned the government’s willingness to “pull out a chequebook” to maintain it.

“This is happening at the same time as we have a government that speaks about not having resources to actually build long-term care facilities,” said Burrill.

The subject of the Liberal government’s deal with Bay Ferries has been a hot topic over the past several months. In October 2018, documents revealed that, in addition to the established $10-million subsidy just to operate the ferry, Nova Scotia was prepared to pay several million for a new terminal in Bar Harbor.

In a November 2018 report, Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully recommended the government release more details on how much taxpayers are contributing to the service’s management fees.

They refused to do this, citing “a legitimate public interest in protecting the confidential commercial information of third-party businesses.”