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Federal government extends P.E.I.-N.S. ferry contract with Northumberland Ferries

The Northumberland Ferry Service between Prince Edward Island and Pictou County will receive funding for the next five years from the federal government as part of $273 million for eastern ferry services.
The Holiday Island - file photo

CARIBOU – Northumberland Ferries Limited will continue to make crossings across the Strait for the next two years.

Don Cormier, vice president of operations for Northumberland Ferries, said the federal government contacted the company asking if it would be interested in continuing to operate the ferry service between Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island the Caribou, Nova Scotia for the next two years.

Cormer said it will be business as usual on the Northumberland Strait until March 2020 which is when this new contract expires. Northumerland Ferries has been operating the local ferry service since 1941 and currently has two vessels that make daily trips between the two provinces between May and December.

Northumberland Ferries has also provided information to the federal government on its request for information in regards to having a new operating model in place in the near future.

Under a new model announced this past May in Prince Edward Island, the federal government said it would be looking for a 20-year commitment from a company to operate the local ferry service.

Transport Canada launched a request for information process in May from any private sector companies that might be interested in running the service. The deadline for submissions was July 31.

After the request for information was complete, it would offer a request for proposals. It was expected that the new model would be in place for 2018 since this was when the current contract with Northumberland Ferries was set to expire.

On Tuesday, Transport Canada said it extended the ferry contribution agreement with Northumberland Ferries for two years to “ensure continuity and support ongoing collaboration with the operators”.

In the interim, the Government of Canada is exploring a long-term approach for the delivery of the three inter-provincial Eastern Canada Ferry Services, said a statement from Transport Canada. Through a Request for Information process, input has been sought from industry on how long-term contracts of up to 20 years with operator-supplied vessels could be used to provide the services.

It stated that the federal government also sought the industry’s feedback on elements of a potential long-term contract approach, including: market interest, commercial capability, vessel availability, service approaches, implementation timelines, general costs and industrial benefits.

The new long-term approach would see the use of contracts, rather than contribution agreements, to manage the relationship between the federal government and private operators. Transport Canada said the new approach would support regional economies and provide long-term certainty and sustainability to communities and users. It said it would also promote safety, efficiency and reliability through high quality service with newer vessels.

Transport Canada said the information received from the industry is currently being analyzed before next steps are determined.

The Wood Islands- Caribou ferry service has been subsidized by the federal government for the past 75 years.

Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane said she would like have seen some reassurance from the federal that government that there is a bigger plan in place after two years.

“The federal government is looking at a whole model across Canada and it is investigating all ferry services, obviously to reduce and save money,” she said. “We have the largest entry point into Nova Scotia and we have an economic and tourism element here,” MacFarlane said. “It is an interprovincial link that both provinces depend on.”

She said the current vessels being used by Northumberland Ferries are aged and she doesn’t want to see a repeat of the 2016 season when one ship was out of service for repairs.

Under the new model, the baseline age for the ferries is 10 years but, of course, new vessels will be accepted.

MacFarlane said a 20-year commitment, as proposed in May, would give businesses the opportunity to invest and for tourism to grow.

“Right now, they are only committing for two years,” she said. “We need a long-term plan and we have to move forward in so many ways.”

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