Editorial: Ferry investments wise, welcomes

Chronicle Herald - July 21, 2014

The province’s Bluenose II refit may be badly behind, but Ottawa is so far on schedule to replace another important piece of Nova Scotia’s maritime infrastructure: the aging MV Princess of Acadia on the Digby to Saint John, N.B., run.

Rather than build a new ferry, however, Ottawa has been scouring the world for a used vessel to replace the 43-year-old roll-on, roll-off car and passenger ferry.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, in an announcement last week in Saint John, pledged an additional $58 million over two years to maintain and repair ships and other assets on the Digby to Saint John run and two others: Caribou, near Pictou, to Wood Islands, P.E.I. and Souris, P.E.I. to Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Que.

Ottawa owns the four ferries and six terminals but leases them to operator Bay Ferries and Northumberland Ferries.

In 2013, Ottawa pledged $60 million to purchase and refit a new ferry on the Digby run, which was seen as an encouraging sign of commitment by the Harper government to the service, which is subsidized by Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ottawa. The government has said it is purchasing an existing vessel because it can be launched more quickly than designing and building a new ship.

Public Works and Government Services Canada is now analyzing bids for a fuel-efficient replacement vessel, which must accommodate 299 passengers and have vehicular lanes totalling 300 metres (or about 64 Toyota Corollas), for the crossing. Once a vessel is picked, a Canadian shipyard will be hired to refit it and it could be in service as early as spring 2015.

So a new ferry could be less than half the size of the Princess of Acadia, built by the Irving shipyard in Saint John in 1971. It can carry 650 passengers and up to 155 cars and 33 tractor-trailers. About 30 per cent of the ferry’s passengers come from the U.S.

Nova Scotia’s seagoing ferries are a critical part of our transportation infrastructure. About a third of the business on the Digby ferry, for example, is commercial, with fish products the No. 1 export to Saint John and points west and south, followed by logs and general cargo.

Fisheries products are Nova Scotia’s second-largest export, worth $.9 billion in 2012.

Tourism, worth more than $2 billion a year to our economy, is also a huge part of the ferries’ business, particularly on the 75-minute Caribou to P.E.I. run. That ferry service carried 380,000 passengers in 2012.

Experts like U.S. consultant Roger Brooks say today’s visitors want novel experiences, and our efficient and attractive ferry services fit nicely into marketing for our region’s unique pastimes, including sea travel.

So federal infrastructure funding that supports both seafood exports and tourism, two key Nova Scotia industries, is a wise, welcome and necessary investment in our economy.

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