[YARMOUTH, NS] — As Yarmouth rides the wave of a third summer without ferry service and the provincial government awaits a report from a panel it appointed to examine the ferry issue, two online petitions are circulating that are aimed at reinforcing the fact that Yarmouth and the province need a return to ferry service.
Yarmouth resident Sue Amon was born in this province but grew up in the United States. She still has many relatives living in Massachusetts.
She has started an online petition on the website www.avaaz.org called Bring Back the NS-USA Ferry. The petition can be found at www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Bring_Back_the_NS_USA_Ferry. As of Saturday morning the petition had around 1,670 signatures.
“We really need the ferry back,” she says. “I have relatives in Massachusetts. I was born in Nova Scotia, but my family was brought up down there. When we moved over here we moved back on the old Bluenose ferry. We used to be able to go back and forth and visit our family whenever we wanted.”
Now, she says, her family and others who want to visit have to take a longer route to get here, either by using the Digby-Saint John ferry or driving around. These aren't feasible options for everyone, she says.
“My family does come once a year but it makes a very long trip,” says Amon. “When they drive around it adds two days to their trip and it means an extra night in a hotel on the way here and the way back. The other way was so convenient.”
Amon would actually like to see year-round ferry service in Yarmouth, as opposed to just a seasonal operation. She thinks a year-round service would be better for the provincial economy as it would give truckers another option for getting products to market.
Amon says she’s already had to increase the number of signatures on her online petition four times because of the number of people signing it.
“When I find that it’s slowing down a little, maybe I’ll deliver it then,” she says, saying she plans to send the petition to the premier, the prime minister, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce and others.
“The important thing is for people to get their voices out there. I know an online petition can’t be tabled but it brings awareness,” Amon says. “I think this is something that we’ve really got to take a stand on. We’ve got to stand up and let our voices be heard and let people know that we haven’t given up. We’ve got to let the government know that we’re not going to be cut off. A ferry should be part of our transportation infrastructure.”
Patrick McDonald is another person who has started an online petition to draw awareness to the ferry issue. McDonald lives in England, which, even he admits, begs the question: Why would an Englishman be concerned about a Nova Scotia ferry? The answer he says on his petition site is quite simple.
“My son immigrated to Nova Scotia in 2007. He moved to an economy that was vibrant and he had prospects. Since the ferry stopped running two years after his arrival, those prospects have diminished and the economy is in dire straits,” McDonald explains. “I have four grandchildren growing up in a dying town. I'm starting this petition to give them and my son a future. Southwestern Nova Scotia is a beautiful and scenic place but the area desperately needs jobs. Your help in signing this petition and urging your friends and contacts to do the same would be enormously appreciated.”
McDonald’s petition, called Restore the Nova Scotia-to-USA Ferry Service, is found on the website Change.org. The link to the site is www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/restore-the-nova-scotia-to-usa-ferry-service.
As of Saturday morning there were around 1,115 signatures on the petition.
“I intend for the petition to end Aug. 31 and to send it to Stephen Harper and Darrell Dexter on Sept. 1, hopefully with several thousand signatures on it,” says McDonald.
He says many of the people who have signed his petition are from overseas. He hopes to see more of the local populace come onboard to add its support. He’s hoping to reach a minimum of 5,000 signatures.
“The feedback I am getting is that people are pleased that something is being done, they are 100 per cent behind the petition because they are realizing that unless we get the NDP to bring the ferry back there will be very tough times ahead,” says McDonald. “One of the results of no action will be an even larger exodus of young folk going out West.”
McDonald adds that it is not only important to Yarmouth that ferry service be reinstated, but it is important to entire province.
“Businesses in Halifax and even further afield have been hit. Ask the hotels, the B&Bs, the restaurants, etc.,” he says. “The turnover from tourism has been lost. The government never thought it through when they withdrew the ferry subsidy.”
Stephen McNeil, the leader of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, was in Yarmouth last week on the first day of the Seafest festival.
“It’s a great time of the year,” he said after attending a children’s parade and a picnic in Frost Park. “People are upbeat, looking forward to festivals, people are coming home and reconnecting with family and friends.”
But coming home is much more difficult without a ferry, McNeil said, and, as people do during all his visits to Yarmouth, last week they once again raised the ferry issue in discussions with him.
“Not only do people talk about the ferry here, but they talk about it across the province,” he said. “There is no question that (losing) the Yarmouth ferry has been one of the most devastating blows to the tourism industry from one end of the province to the other.”
McNeil said while the greatest impact of the lack of a ferry is felt in Yarmouth, the rest of the province has not been immune to the pain.
And what’s even more galling, he said, are the millions upon millions of dollars that have been invested by the NDP government in other companies and industries that have ended up closing and putting people out of work. And yet here was a ferry service, McNeil said, that contributed to the provincial economy.
Figures in studies have shown that the amount of return from the ferry service into the economy outweighed any government subsidy put into it.
“For some reason the government is not willing to acknowledge that they made a mistake,” said McNeil.