Marine Atlantic will scale back its summer ferry schedule between Port aux Basques and North Sydney due to fewer tourist bookings and a drop in commercial traffic.
The issue erupted in the House of Assembly Thursday, with southwest coast Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons saying the provincial government isn’t standing up hard enough to the federal government when it comes to ferry service.
“Marine Atlantic service affects every single person in this province. I would also note that Marine Atlantic’s current funding arrangement expires next year,” Parsons said. “I ask the premier: will you commit to sending a provincial delegation to Ottawa to ensure the federal government not only maintains the service, but will improve it for the benefit of this province and for all those who wish to come here?”
Premier Tom Marshall said he’s seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to talk about a raft of provincial issues.
After question period, Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Kent said the provincial government is keeping an eye on the Marine Atlantic situation, and expects the federal government to live up to its constitutional obligations to provide ferry service.
“Obviously this is something that we’re very concerned about. We don’t know what the full impact will be yet, but we are definitely mindful of the needs of both tourists coming to Newfoundland and Labrador and also the commercial users,” Kent said.
Marine Atlantic spokesman Darrell Mercer said commercial traffic is down and so are regular bookings.
“We’ve seen a significant decrease in commercial traffic over the past few months, and that, combined with lower passenger bookings, has freed up significant capacity,” he said. “We’re trying to become efficient so that we’re not sailing our vessels half full, because of the costs that are associated with that.”
Mercer said the decline in commercial traffic seems to be partially due to a slowing economy. He said housing starts are down, and that means less construction material coming across on ferries, but higher rates also might be a factor.
“We’re certainly cognizant that increasing rates may have had on our customers, and as we’re starting to evaluate this in the months ahead, we’re going to see exactly what the impacts may have been,” he said.
Parsons said that aside from possible effects on tourism, in his part of the province the cutback in service will mean lost jobs at Marine Atlantic.
“It’s a huge impact on a lot of people when they’re not going to get work and may have to move back out of province to get employment,” he said. “My problem is this provincial government seems to do nothing whatsoever to lobby on behalf of the people of the province when it comes to Marine Atlantic.”