About halfway through question period, Liberal MHA Tom Osborne seemed to be getting frustrated with the answers he was getting on ferry issues.
“I am going to dumb this down for the minister, Mr. Speaker,” he said in an exasperated tone of voice. “How long is the lease? How much is the lease?”
But despite Osborne's best efforts to make it simple, Transportation Minister Nick McGrath didn't answer the question.
“We have entered into a short-term contract. It is an open contract that we will use for as long as we have to,” McGrath said. “We will continue. As long as the people need the service on The Tickle that will be in a contract.”
The two men were sparring about the Norcon Galatea, a ferry formerly known as the Hamilton Sound which has been pressed into service to meet a gap in service on the Bell Island run.
Osborne said the government sold the old ferry for $214,000, but after about $1 million was spent on it, the vessel is now in “like new” condition.
“I ask the minister: If this vessel is like new, why would government themselves not have invested $1 million and kept this ferry in service?” Osborne asked. “Would that not have been sound financial management?”
In response, McGrath talked about the millions of dollars the government is spending on building other ferries as part of their fleet renewal plan.
“Last week I made the announcement of $51 million to go into a new ferry on the Fogo Island–Change Island run, and a $10-million investment into the Bell Island–Portugal Cove infrastructure system. I also announced that we are in the process of looking at a second 80 metre ferry,” McGrath said.
“At the time that we sold the Galatea, we decided it was not in our best interest to keep that ship because it was not part of the new system. We are quite pleased with the investment the new owners have made in that and we will avail of that system.”
Osborne never got an answer on how much the government is paying to lease the ferry.