Crappy boat makes for crappy service

Michael Johansen
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To everyone’s surprise and delight, the latest delay in the sailing of the MV Northern Ranger out of Goose Bay lasted only a few hours — rather than the weeks all would-be passengers have come to expect.

This delay had to do with a defective firehose, which is obviously important especially since there’ve been two fires on board in less than a month, but it’s not as bad as the broken gearbox that crippled the Ranger last year. That time she had to be towed to Quebec for major work.

It took six weeks, and when repairs were done it was too late to send her back to Labrador, so she ended up running passengers and freight along Newfoundland’s south coast all winter.

Afterwards, she again needed repairs, which was the first of several things that delayed her initial 2013 departure from Goose Bay by three weeks. However, these repairs were not enough. Both little and big problems keep cropping up — in addition to the fires.

For example, on her first trip this summer, the gangplank malfunctioned, forcing passengers to climb in and out of a cargo hatch at Makkovik.

On another trip, the Ranger didn’t quite make it away from Cartwright.

“She left here Saturday night and lost all power and was just floating around in the harbour until they finally dropped anchor to fix the trouble,” one resident reports. “What if that happened outside the community where the tides are swift? Shameful to put so many people’s lives in danger. I would never travel on this boat.”

As it happened, the firehose only delayed departure for about four hours, but the incident illustrates how poorly the service is managed. Typically, the government was silent and it was up to a member of the opposition to keep the public informed. Randy Edmunds (MHA for Torngat Mountains) did that over Facebook by messaging his 2,000-plus contacts.

Edmunds calls the transportation service a “farce.” He’s not just talking about the decrepit boat, but also about how the company is “gouging” the people forced to use it.

“What they’re doing to the people of northern Labrador is nothing less than cruel,” he says, “and that includes Black Tickle.”

CAI Nunatsiavut Marine doubled and quadrupled its freight rates from one season to the next, and the only explanation offered is that the company has mistakenly been under-charging its customers for many years. The CAI president says he understands their “confusion,” but maybe (his subtext reads) they should be grateful instead of upset.

But upset they are, nonetheless. Luckily, Facebook allows citizens to publicly express their opinions. Following the firehose delay, plenty are using the opportunity.

The milder remarks involve the reasonable demand that the provincial government replace the Ranger with a new boat, but that suggestion is being ignored.

The government made it clear last year when it wouldn’t even replace the broken-down Ranger for the balance of the season that it has no intention of providing Labrador with a better vessel. In fact, it intends to keep the Ranger until at least March 2016, which means 2 1/2f more seasons full of repairs and delays.

As usual, the government seems oblivious to the problems it’s causing for its citizens and for itself — the government, of course, being blind to anything beyond its desire to pour untold billions of dollars into a money-losing megadam in central Labrador. Fortunately, the people see what’s happening and they want better treatment. They don’t like being forced to take second place in their own land.

“Oh my, here we go again,” one commentator writes. “Sick of waiting for freight … hard enough to get stuff in Goose because every business caters to Muskrat Falls before any coastal orders and when you do manage to get orders, we can’t get the damn stuff ’cause the boat is useless!”

The government must deal with these grievances and maybe take two or three days’ worth of the millions given to Nalcor to buy a good boat for Labrador. The longer the government delays, the more political the issue becomes and the more attractive a political solution appears.

As another commentator wrote: “The holdup is Labradorian unity and territorial status for the Big Land.”

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Organizations: MV Northern Ranger

Geographic location: Labrador, Goose Bay, Quebec Torngat Mountains Northern Labrador Muskrat Falls

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