News: New B.C. ferries might be funded by Ottawa, federal transport minister hints

But money for new ships could mean less for transit and other B.C priorities

Vancouver Sun - January 28, 2016

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is open to the idea of funding the B.C. ferry system, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday.

He made the comment after a day-long meeting with provincial counterparts that included Todd Stone, B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure.

Garneau noted that Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi spoke to the ministers earlier in the day and was asked by B.C. and some other provinces if Ottawa would agree to fund ferries as part of its plan to sharply increase infrastructure spending.

“I think minister Sohi demonstrated an openness to expanding some of the eligibility for different forms of infrastructure, including possibly ferries,” Garneau replied.

Stone later told The Sun he’s getting good vibes on both B.C.’s “asks” on the ferry front – a request to fund ferries when the federal Liberals start fulfilling their promise to sharply increase infrastructure spending, and to plea to waive the $52-million import tariff Victoria says it is required to pay to import three vessels now being constructed for B.C. in Poland.

He said previous federal governments had already set the precedent by waiving the tariff.

But he said in neither case has Ottawa fully confirmed it will agree to the requests. “We’re not there yet.”

The provincial government has announced a 12-year, $3.5-billion program to add a new ferry a year to the service each year over that period. If the federal infrastructure money goes into the system it would be used to help pay for new ferries or terminal upgrades.

The province is likely going to have to demonstrate that the money will generate significant economic activity, since there is growing pressure on Ottawa to use infrastructure funding to boost the sagging economy.

Stone said Victoria isn’t asking for a higher share of spending for the province. Any funding going to ferries will mean less would be available for roads, bridges, water treatment facilities, social housing and other forms of infrastructure.

He said the previous Harper government expressed openness to funding ferries, but officials found resistance in the bureaucracy.

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