NS: Ferry support 'long time coming', say MLAs

Eric Bourque
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The Vanguard

Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill and Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont said they welcome the recent provincial funding news in support of a ferry, but say the government is three years late in taking this action.

Many people long for the day when there is ferry activity at the ferry terminal in Yarmouth. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

[YARMOUTH, NS] — That the province is prepared to invest millions of dollars in a new ferry for Yarmouth is great, but the premier’s announcement should have come long before now, say the area’s two MLAs.

Yarmouth’s mayor, meanwhile, called it “really good news” and said many people have worked very hard to help make this day possible.

Contacted Friday morning — shortly after Premier Darrell Dexter said the province would invest up to $21 million over seven years in a new Yarmouth ferry — Mayor Phil Mooney said he was pleased with the ferry panel’s report (also released Friday morning) and the recognition that the Yarmouth ferry service has an economic impact that goes beyond southwestern Nova Scotia.

That the loss of the ferry connection with Maine affected not just the Yarmouth area but had an impact well beyond here is something he and others have emphasized, the mayor said.

“But I’m even more happy with the premier’s announcement (of government support for a new service),” Mayor Mooney said, adding that he had expected the premier simply to accept the report and “take it under advisement.”

Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill and Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont said they welcome the news of provincial funds to help get a ferry going, but they say the government is three years late in taking this action.

“Obviously it’s encouraging that the premier has finally come to the plate with some financial (commitment), but really this process should have happened three years ago,” Churchill said.

He notes that Yarmouth lost a good deal of its hotel/motel rooms in the wake of the loss of the ferry.

“The Grand (Hotel) got support — $1 million — but is there going to be support coming from this government to fix the damage that’s been caused by their decision to cut the ferry and help the tourism industry get on its feet again in Yarmouth and southwestern Nova Scotia?”

Had the government taken steps to maintain the ferry connection in the first place, he said, “We wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.”

He added, however, referring to Friday’s announcement from the premier, “Sometimes you have to focus on the positive.”

Chris d’Entrement offered a similar assessment, the Argyle MLA saying that while it’s great to hear some good news for a change on the ferry issue, the question is why it took so long.

The premier announced the province was prepared to spend money on a new ferry after receiving a report from an independent panel that said a Yarmouth-Portland service could work provided there is sufficient investment in getting the service going, proper marketing etc.

While he said he found the report well written and the information in it well presented, d’Entremont said — as did Churchill — that the report didn’t seem to say much that hadn’t been said before.    

As for the premier, d’Entremont said, “He still didn’t apologize (for cancelling the ferry subsidy three years ago). He still thinks it was a good idea, or at least thought the decision was the right decision to be made back in 2009.”

Had some of the funding announced by the premier Friday been made available for the previous ferry service three years ago, d’Entremont said, “We could have saved everybody some money and some time and southwestern Nova Scotia would better for it today.”

Mayor Mooney acknowledged that it has taken much time and effort to reach this point. He said many people have worked hard, including those involved in the ferry partnership (the group co-chaired by Neil LeBlanc and Keith Condon), tourism industry leaders and others.

At the municipal government level, he said, “Basically there hasn’t been a week here in town hall where we haven’t discussed the ferry issue,” he said. “I know it’s been top priority with (Argyle Warden) Aldric d’Entremont. It’s been top priority with (Yarmouth Warden) Leland (Anthony) and myself to reinstate the ferry service. … Every opportunity we had to talk to any municipal leader, any MLA or any federal MP, we stressed the importance of the ferry, not only to southwestern Nova Scotia but to Atlantic Canada.”

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie called Premier Dexter’s announcement of funding for a new ferry a positive step but said it proves the province was wrong to cut the previous service three years ago.

“The ferry should have been maintained while a new plan was developed for it,” the Tory leader said. “We could have transitioned to this point three years ago without the interruption of service. Today’s announcement proved the NDP got it wrong but won’t admit it or apologize to the people who have lost their jobs or businesses.”

Argyle MLA d’Entremont said he was disappointed to see the panel suggesting 2014 as the realistic startup year for a new service, although he said he understands the panel’s reasoning.

He said he feels the Yarmouth area can recover from what it has gone through the past three years.

While it’s true that people have left to go out West, d’Entremont says there are positive things happening too. Tourism people are working to promote the area, he said, and the Yarmouth area still has some quality businesses and attractions.

“We’ll be okay,” he said. “It’ll take time, but we’ll be okay.”

Organizations: Yarmouth-Portland, Tory

Geographic location: YARMOUTH, Maine, Atlantic Canada Nova Scotia

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