30 May 2014

Playing with the Ferryman #nlpoli

The ferry service between Newfoundland and Cape Breton is economically important to the province as a whole, but it’s especially sensitive for Port aux Basques.

Marine Atlantic announced a change in the summer ferry schedule on Thursday.  The company will reduce the number of crossings daily and put one of its ferries on stand-by in the event they need it. 

This isn’t the schedule the company announced in February for its busiest season of the year but, as the company spokesperson put it in this media interviews, their original projections turned out to be high.  As a result, the company has reduced the number of schedules crossings while keeping the option of adding capacity if bookings pick up.

Not surprisingly, Andrew Parsons, the member of the House of Assembly for LaPoile district, raised the issue during Thursday’s question period. 

Also unsurprisingly,  he blamed the decision on the federal government and its supposed failure to fund the ferry service, which is guaranteed under the Terms of Union between Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Here’s what Parsons said in his first question on Marine Atlantic.

This is undoubtedly one of the repercussions of the federal government decision to continue to provide insufficient funding for what is essentially our highway to the mainland.

I ask the Premier: What has your government done to lobby your federal counterparts to ensure that this constitutional service is properly funded?


Yes friends, even though the cause of the changed schedule is entirely about a drop in ferry traffic,  the federal government is responsible for it.

For those who may not understand these things,  politics in Newfoundland and Labrador is like a Punch and Judy show.  There are all sorts of stock characters and stock arguments that local politicians trot out.  One of the favourites is “Ottawa the Villain.” 

Danny Williams built a political legend entirely on complete bullshit usually involving an attack on the federal government or a prime minister or two.  More recently,  Yvonne Jones and Kathy Dunderdale formed a true mind-bender of a tag team to blame the federal government for Burton Winters’ death even though the search and rescue service involved in the incident was entirely  - and without doubt – the provincial government’s responsibility.

Some of you may have already guessed what Steve Kent – the cabinet minister tagged to handle the question – said in his reply.  For the rest, here it is:

Mr. Speaker, our position as a government has been consistent, that the federal government must meet its commitment under the Terms of Union. We need a reliable, effective ferry service to meet the needs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

We will continue to lobby the federal government to ensure that it lives up to its constitutional commitment.

Kent chimed right in on the same line.

For the benefit of those who might not have a copy of the Terms of Union close at hand, here’s the relevant term related to the ferry service:

32. (1) Canada will maintain in accordance with the traffic offering a freight and passenger steamship service between North Sydney and Port aux Basques, which, on completion of a motor highway between Corner Brook and Port aux Basques, will include suitable provision for the carriage of motor vehicles. [bold and italics added]

There’s the constitutional commitment.

The Government of Canada will operate a ferry service – note the words – “in accordance with the traffic.”

Kent should have just batted the question back at Parsons but Blame Ottawa is just too seductive a political drug for local politicians.

And so they just put on a bit of political theatre.