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Cat ferry overspending ‘just brutal,’ PCs say

Bay Ferries Ltd., the operator of the Cat ferry from Yarmouth to Maine said it is anticipating that late summer will be the earliest the ferry service service to the United States could begin this season.  TINA COMEAU   TRI-COUNTY VANGUARD
Bay Ferries Ltd., the operator of the Cat ferry from Yarmouth to Maine said it is anticipating that late summer will be the earliest the ferry service service to the United States could begin this season. TINA COMEAU TRI-COUNTY VANGUARD

Tory Leader Tim Houston slammed the province after the Transportation Department released funding figures for the stalled Yarmouth to Maine ferry service, showing it went millions of dollars over budget.

The 2018-19 figures show the province had originally estimated spending $10.9 million on the service, but that figure ballooned to $24 million by the end of the fiscal year.

Houston took particular issue with the handouts given to the service operator Bay Ferries. He zeroed in on $1.3 million in funding to replace the ferry’s gear box. Houston pointed out the province’s service agreement ends following next year’s ferry season. He said there’s no certainty that Nova Scotians will benefit from the investment .

“The whole thing is just brutal,” said Houston. “These guys spent $1.3 million to put a new gear box on a boat that they have no guarantee that they can use after next year. This is the type of mismanagement that has been happening on this file ever since the beginning. “

PC leader Tim Houston takes issue with the money spent on the Bay Ferries' service to Maine, as well as the job the government has done in attracting riders. - Eric Bourque
PC leader Tim Houston takes issue with the money spent on the Bay Ferries' service to Maine, as well as the job the government has done in attracting riders. - Eric Bourque

The leader of the opposition took issue with $1.9 million devoted to what the province labelled: “Cash deficiency due to increased fuel costs and lower revenue.”

Houston interpreted that as the province rewarding the company with money for providing a sub-par service.

“They’ve done a terrible job attracting people to take the ferry,” said Houston. “They haven’t done a good job in convincing people that they can provide a reliable service.

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines
Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines

Meanwhile, the province has offered no firm date for when the service would be in compliance with United States Customs and Border Protection regulations. But Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said the ferry facility in Yarmouth is about 95 per cent complete.

Hines said there’s still a possibility for the ferry to be up and running in August and the season could be extended into October.

“It’s a possible option that we put on the table a month ago,” said Hines. “If we could get going in August that would be good, or in September, because we want to assure people that this service will continue to exist. We believe in it 100 per cent.”

Meanwhile the company has already issued refunds to people who had made reservations for the Cat. The company is not currently taking reservations.

Bay Ferries issued a release in mid-July saying, “Efforts are being made to accelerate the start date. In the meantime, all customers holding bookings on the season will be offered full refunds on their reservations and no new reservations will be accepted until there is more definitive timing.”

Throughout the winter and early spring, Bay Ferries had been targeting June 21 as a potential start date. It was then pushed back to July 7 and after that Bay Ferries cancelled reservations up to July 18.

“Bay Ferries Ltd. deeply regrets any inconvenience caused to our customers and impacts on our partners and the hospitality industry,” the company stated. “We will continue to make every effort to support the Southwest Nova tourism industry, and Nova Scotia tourism industry, in any way possible.”

Houston said the province knew that the outstanding U.S. Customs approvals would have taken between 12 to 18 months to complete, meaning the province knew the entire season likely would have had to be cancelled.

“I don’t know why they believe that U.S. customs would short-circuit the system to appease them,” said Houston.

“If they were really concerned about tourism operators, if they were really concerned about being mindful of taxpayer dollars, this would be the No. 1 priority for the minister.”

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