Central Nova MP Sean Fraser is calling for at least two new boats to replace the ageing ferries currently plying the ferry route from Caribou, N.S., to Wood Islands, P.E.I.
One of the two existing ferries was built in 1971 while the other dates from the early 1990s. Both vessels are undergoing repairs before the summer ferry season begins on May 1.
Fraser wants any replacement boats to be less than 10 years old and be owned by private operators who will run the vessels on long-term contracts.
“We are committed to a long-term ferry service from Caribou to the Wood Islands,” Fraser told The News Friday.
Having already spoken with tour operators and other local businesses that rely on the ferry service, Fraser said the next step was launching a request for proposals that included a requirement for new ferries.
He did not have any idea how much new ferries might cost.
Fraser said only that the bidding process will be “open and competitive.”
One potential issue is what will happen to people employed with the present ferry service when new ferries are introduced.
Fraser told The News that he had spoken with ferry workers and was taking their concerns “very seriously.”
“That’s not something I can explicitly say is part of the RFP, as it has not been made public,” said Fraser about measures to protect workers.
In an email to The News Thursday, Transport Canada said the federal government held a request for information process on a revamped ferry service last summer.
This process was based on private operators owning the ferries instead of Ottawa, who would then run them on a long-term contract.
As part of this process, the government also sought industry feedback on a potential long-term contract, including: market interest, commercial capability, vessel availability, service approaches, implementation timelines, general costs and industrial benefits, said spokesperson Annie Joannette.
She added that her office was working with ferry operators to ensure a safe and reliable service for passengers.
Joannette said that Ottawa aims to provide high quality service “with newer and better vessels, while supporting the regional Atlantic and Quebec economies.”
According to CBC, the federal government received a letter from P.E.I. MLA Darlene Compton voicing concerns about the condition of the two ferries linking the Island to Pictou County.
Presently, Ottawa has signed a two-year contract for Northumberland Ferries to run the service.