Need to reassess ferry inevitable

Published on July 25, 2014

From a strictly monetary point of view, things aren’t off to a booming start for the recently relaunched Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry.

The Nova Scotia government pledged a $21 million loan over seven years to help the American operator of Nova Star Cruises, but that entire sum has been spent just two months into its first season.

While the provincial government still says it’s hoping for a success story, Economic Development Minister Michel Samson isn’t saying whether the Liberals would consider ongoing subsidies.

As to the company itself, it acknowledges a slow start but says ticket sales are picking up now. There’s also some discrepancy as to the support it can expect from the Maine government, if any.

Some will argue the importance of ferry links in a maritime region, but on the other hand, the importance of each crossing is a relative matter.

Given the recent news, optimism about this ferry might not be strong. From a reader poll on The News website, 60 per cent said they don’t think it will prove successful.

Interestingly, about 13 per cent of respondents said even if not successful, the crossing is still vital. But if it’s priced to the point that people are more likely to find the drive the preferable choice – up through New Brunswick, southwest into Maine – then we have to determine just how vital a link it is.

We must step back several years, after the former NDP government pulled funding on the crossing because it was too much of a money loser. People and businesses, particularly in that southwest region, cried foul and said the loss seriously undermined the tourist trade.

Unless things turn for the better, Nova Scotia’s government is going to have to weigh this again. If visitors aren’t using this ferry at reasonable levels, it’s hard to argue that business suffers without it. But if indeed it does, the government would have to assess by how much, then decide whether and by how much it makes sense to continue helping the service.