Atlantic Transport News – July 2021

Welcome to the July edition of Atlantic Transport News!

Here’s a look at what you’ll find in this edition:

ELECTRIC FERRIES PLANNED FOR HRM

A look at the proposed new ferry routes under Halifax’s Rapid Transit Strategy. The first route from Mill Cove to downtown Halifax got a major boost in the past month, with funding from all levels of government to move the project ahead. GRAPHIC – Halifax Regional Municipality

Halifax Transit has received a major boost to one of their rapid transit plans, as all levels of government have stepped in with funding to move ahead with a plan to launch a fast, electrified ferry service from Bedford into downtown Halifax. Halifax Transit had announced the plan as part of their Rapid Transit Strategy, and in June the federal, provincial and municipal governments announced funding support to move the project toward becoming reality.

The full project, which will involve the construction of new ferry terminals, replacement of the downtown Halifax terminal, and the purchase of new vessels for the service, is estimated to cost $134.5 million. An initial $3.3 million study to plan and engineer the service will be supported by $1.1 million from the province of Nova Scotia, $1.3 million from the federal government, and another $917,000 from the Halifax Regional Municipality. This phase of the project is expected to be complete in 2022, with hopes that the ferry service will be able to launch in 2024.

In a separate announcement, the HRM announced a tender for design concepts for the rebuild of the downtown terminal and the design of the new Mill Cove terminal. The downtown terminal will need to be expanded significantly to accommodate the new electric vessels planned for the service, and the Mill Cove terminal will need to include bridges across the CN rail line.

A fast ferry service has been proposed a number of times over the years as a solution to traffic congestion on the Bedford Highway, and as a way to provide a more efficient public transit connection into the downtown core. When recent attempts at commuter rail fell through, the ferry service has again risen to the top as a viable option, promising travel times to downtown that can beat driving even at off-peak times, and far exceed anything that is possible by car or bus during peak rush hour. With the new addition of exploring an all-electric ferry, the service is even more attractive to multiple levels of government that are prioritizing a shift to clean, sustainable public transportation options. All being well, this will turn out to be the first step in an important expansion of Halifax’s transit network.

-Tim Hayman

ATLANTIC BUBBLE OFF TO A SHAKY START – AT LAST!

Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see on the Trans-Canada Highway near Amherst NS as protesters expressed their displeasure with more stringent provincial travel restrictions imposed just days before the 2021 version of the Atlantic Bubble was launched. This year there’s less consistency among the provincial governments, so travellers would be wise to check the rules in advance before attempting to cross provincial boundaries. PHOTO – RCMP on Twitter

It will be a bit different from last summer’s successful formula, but the 2021 version of the Atlantic Bubble is finally up and running. Postponed several times, the arrangement permits travel (with a few restrictions) among the four provinces, without the requirement to self-isolate. The four governments had evident difficulty in reaching a consensus, perhaps due in part to the presence of two new premiers in the mix this year. In any event, it did not come together without a rather public difference of opinion between the premiers and chief medical health officers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – one that resulted in a protest blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway near Amherst that required RCMP intervention, and got the local MLA booted from the NS PC caucus over her apparent role in the illegal activity.

With the rapid acceleration of COVID inoculations throughout the region and a steep decline in active cases during June, the travel outlook is certainly looking brighter for the summer of 2021. As of July 1, Nova Scotia was reporting 51 cases, down from 369 a month earlier; New Brunswick had 24 compared to 142; NL had just five, a drop from 90; and PEI had only one, having gone for over three weeks during June without a single new case being reported. Nonetheless, visitors to the Island this year must apply online for a “PEI Pass” prior to arrival. That’s just one of many variations in the rules among the provinces, so travellers would be well-advised to check in advance before hitting the road to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

VIA RAIL PREPARES TO RESUME OCEAN SERVICE – BUT IT WON’T BE THE SAME

When the post-pandemic Ocean returns, among the missing amenities will be the iconic Park-series domed observation cars. Designed to operate in the forward-facing direction only, they can no longer be turned at Halifax. VIA hasn’t yet provided full details of future train consists, but we will soon find out when a train makes its way to Halifax for the service resumption. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

It’s been a long 17 months, but VIA Rail’s Ocean service is finally returning to the Maritimes – even if it won’t look quite the same as it did when the last train departed in March of 2020. VIA has just announced that the Ocean will resume its operations from Halifax on August 11, 2021, with a single weekly departure in each direction.

https://media.viarail.ca/en/press-releases/2021/rails-ocean-service-gradually-resume-starting-august-11

The first train will depart Halifax on August 11th, and the first eastbound trip will depart Montreal on August 15th; this will make for a schedule featuring Wednesday departures from Halifax and Sunday departures from Montreal, presumably following the same timetable as before the pandemic. VIA has labeled this a “gradual” resumption of service, and expressed optimism that additional frequencies will follow shortly; at the time of writing, an advisory on the VIA website shows tri-weekly service resuming in October, but this is always subject to change.

Consistent with trains like the Canadian that have been operating up to this point, the Ocean’s on board service offering will be much different during the first days of operation. Both Economy and Sleeper classes will be offered, in a mix of Renaissance and HEP1 stainless steel equipment, but passengers will not have free movement throughout the train. Sleeper passengers are asked to stick to their rooms for the duration of the trip, and Economy passengers to stay at their seats aside from trips to the washroom, or presumably stretch breaks at longer station stops. Passengers must wear masks on board, in keeping with federal requirements, except when eating or drinking or when in their own private rooms. Food service will be provided by cart to Economy passengers, and by room service to sleeper passengers – no meals in the dining car, for now. There will also be no lounge access for the time being, and while a Skyline dome may eventually be included in the consist, there won’t be one for the time being. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, all of these restrictions are subject to change as the situation evolves.

A special deadhead train will soon head east to ferry equipment from Montreal to Halifax to allow for crew training and the first departure from Halifax (*UPDATE: This deadhead train arrived in Halifax on the morning of July 13th). With the service shut down for such an extended period, quite a number of crew members have no doubt chosen to take retirement or have found other employment, so new on board crew training will be essential. Once this consist heads east, we should finally get a look at the new incarnation of the Ocean, now that the train cannot be turned. We expect to see a hybrid hodge-podge of Renaissance and HEP equipment, with baggage cars on both ends and no Park car, on account of the need to run the train in reverse for the return trip.

Regardless of the changes to the train, it is still a positive sign to see VIA’s return to the region, and TAA will continue to advocate for a full service resumption as soon as possible, and further improvements moving into the future.

VIA’s return to Halifax – on July 13, 2021, a full 16 months after the last train #15 departed on March 13, 2020, VIA equipment has at last returned to Halifax. With the locomotives back to back and the new bidirectional consist in tow, this consist will be used for on board crew training over the next several weeks, and depart Halifax as train #15 on August 11th. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

“OPEN WITH AN ASTERISK” – A DIFFERENT SUMMER AT MARINE ATLANTIC

MV Atlantic Vision will be making fewer appearances at Argentia this summer. Pandemic precautions have reduced the maximum passenger numbers to 300 per crossing, and a reduced level of customer amenities will be offered. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

More than two weeks delayed from the originally planned date, MV Atlantic Vision docked at Argentia NL on the morning of July 5, marking the launch a scaled-down 2021 seasonal service. Although it is a significant improvement over 2020 when the route did not operate at all, the Vision will be sailing this summer under the dark cloud of COVID-19. Consequently, many of the onboard amenities that had helped make the trip a special travel experience in recent years won’t be offered. And, there will be only two weekly round trips instead of the usual three.

Colin Tibbo, Marine Atlantic’s chief information officer and acting vice-president of customer experience, says there is sufficient flexibility in their operational plan to allow for a third return crossing should demand exceed expectations. But for now the departures from North Sydney will be at 1730 ADT on Sunday and Wednesday only, sailing from Argentia at 1700 NDT on Monday and Thursday. To allow for social distancing there will be a limit of 300 passengers per crossing, which means much of the auto deck space will be empty. Most of the passengers are expected to be in cabin accommodation, and Mr. Tibbo notes that demand for private rooms is stronger than ever. In fact, he senses a trend where this is a make-or-break condition for many prospective customers. However, the good news for unberthed passengers in lounges is that they will be sufficiently spaced so that wearing of masks will not be required once they are seated.

The popular buffet dining option on the Vision has fallen victim to the pandemic – perhaps permanently – and the upscale dining room experience will also not be offered this year. The only alternative to the ship’s rather small snack bar will be a light meal service available in the bar lounge area.

Mr. Tibbo said the company did not want to cancel the Argentia run again this year, despite the pandemic uncertainty, because they consider it to be an important part of their summer service offering. He noted that, despite the limited amenities, the initial July 4 departure was booked to 98% of its reduced passenger capacity a few days prior to sailing, which attests to the popularity of the seasonal route. The online “rolling schedule” that now allows customers to reserve up to 16 months in advance shows a return to three weekly crossings in 2022.

A similar passenger limitation applies to the year-round North Sydney-Port aux Basques route, where there are a minimum of two daily sailings. Public health measures are likewise in effect, and passenger amenities have been reduced accordingly. Commercial drivers are now berthed in single-occupancy cabins, which places additional pressure on accommodations aboard the Blue Puttees and Highlanders. The volume of commercial traffic hasn’t been significantly affected during the pandemic, and passenger bookings as of early July were running between 30 and 40 percent higher than corresponding dates in 2020.

Customer expectations for Marine Atlantic appear to have adjusted somewhat because of COVID-19, just as they have elsewhere in the transportation and hospitality industries, but Mr. Tibbo expects they will become higher with the passage of time. He’s reluctant, however, to predict timelines for the return to a higher level of customer amenities.

“We’ll see how it unfolds,” he says, “For now, we’re open – with an asterisk!”

-Ted Bartlett

MARITIME BUS BEGINS SIX-DAY OPERATION; DRL SOLDIERS ON

After a financially-challenging winter and spring, maintaining service only three times a week, Maritime Bus increased to a daily-except-Saturday schedule at the end of June. Owner Mike Cassidy is looking ahead to better days, but there’s still no indication of any federal support for a national integrated motorcoach network. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

With the rejigged Atlantic Bubble now in effect, Maritime Bus owner Mike Cassidy is looking ahead to better days – but he finds it hard to be optimistic. In anticipation of increased travel, the company bumped its schedules up to six days a week effective June 23, but uptake has been very slow, with three different reopening plans in the Maritime provinces having a dampening effect on ridership.

There’s been no response to date to the industry’s urgent pleas for federal support and a modest financial commitment to help rebuild a national intercity motorcoach network in the wake of Greyhound’s complete abandonment of Canadian service and the devastation of COVID-19.

“It appears as if there is no champion at the federal or provincial level,” Mr. Cassidy commented. “All I can say is that busing in Canada needs help.”

Meanwhile in Newfoundland, the orange DRL coaches are still plying their 900 km. route, serving 25 stops along the Trans-Canada highway from St. John’s to Port aux Basques. This despite a warning from owner Jason Roberts last month that financial pressures might force the company to cease operations. There’s been no word on the possibility of any assistance from the cash-strapped provincial government, along the lines of emergency aid extended earlier this year to Maritime Bus by Nova Scotia, PEI, and (after some prodding) New Brunswick.

But unlike elsewhere in Canada, there appears to be some onus on Ottawa to support DRL, which acquired the trans-island bus service from newly-privatized Canadian National in 1997. The so-called “Roadcruiser Service” had replaced the CN passenger train in 1969, and federal government responsibility to ensure continuing service at fares consistent with passenger rail elsewhere in Canada was acknowledged in the 1988 federal-provincial Memorandum of Understanding that provided for final abandonment of the Newfoundland Railway. However, none of the province’s six Liberal MPs have as yet weighed in on the issue.

SHUTTERED AIRPORTS REOPEN – WITH SOME NEW SERVICES

A water cannon salute greets PAL flight 905 on its inaugural arrival at Fredericton from Newfoundland on June 28. YFC was one of three Maritime airports to reopen late last month, after being closed since January. PHOTO – PAL Airlines

With the gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the aviation industry in Atlantic Canada is at last on final approach to what may prove to be a long period of recovery. Three regional airports in the Maritimes that had been completely devoid of scheduled passenger service for more than five months reopened for business in late June, and flight frequencies at others that had maintained limited service during the pandemic were noticeably increased. There were even some new destinations on departure boards around the region as airport spokespersons expressed cautious optimism.

Notable among recent developments was the return of scheduled service to Saint John, Fredericton and Sydney, which had been in hibernation since January. In addition to the return of Air Canada services to Toronto and Montreal, and WestJet flights to Toronto, YFC welcomed its first-ever direct service to and from Newfoundland with a tri-weekly flight by PAL Airlines to and from St. John’s with an intermediate stop at Deer Lake. In addition to the return of Air Canada service, discount carrier Flair Airlines was offering flights to Toronto from YSJ for as little as $49 one-way on a once-a-week 737 jet. At Sydney, WestJet resumed service to and from Halifax, while Air Canada was offering direct flights to Toronto.

St. John’s welcomed the return of direct service to Toronto by both Air Canada and WestJet, after an absence of several months. It would appear that Air Canada has no plans to resume local services between Halifax and various Maritime airports, but it looks like PAL is moving in to take up where the national carrier left off. PAL’s ambitious expansion plans also include offering service to Ottawa beginning in August. And by the time Porter Airlines returns to the skies in September, they may find the field a little bit crowded.

But make no mistake: air travel is by no means back to normal, or even approaching a new normal. The majority of the reinstated services are at greatly reduced frequencies – less than daily in many cases. Even the most optimistic air travel advocates will acknowledge that the road back will be a difficult one. Many restrictions remain in place, with most airports limiting access to their facilities strictly to passengers holding tickets. Most food and beverage concessions have not reopened, and masks must be worn continuously from entering the departure terminal until the exit on arrival.

There’s been no indication as to if or when overseas flights might return to Halifax Stanfield International Airport. For the foreseeable future, Atlantic Canadians destined to Europe or the UK will be obliged to fly several hours in the wrong direction before heading across the big pond.

NEW RURAL AND SMALL TOWN TRANSIT INITIATIVES UNDERWAY

A new fully-accessible transit service in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County launched on May 17, bringing public transportation back to New Glasgow and Stellarton after a 25-year absence. PHOTO – PC Transit

Residents of the Nova Scotia towns of New Glasgow and Stellarton are once again able to avail of public transit. Pictou County has not seen such a service since 1996, and the three-year pilot project should provide ample opportunity to prove that it is both needed and sustainable. 

Ridership numbers will determine if the service continues past the three-year trial, and promoters emphasize it is very important the community support the service by using it. 

The route is a one-hour bus loop through the two towns, but it’s been named Pictou County Transit in the hope that other communities will join in. 

The new, fully accessible, one-door-for-all, low-floor bus made its inaugural run on May 17.  The $190,000 capital cost was underwritten by the Province of Nova Scotia, which is also fully funding the first year of operations. Years two and three will see Stellarton and New Glasgow pay $50,000 and $100,000 annually, respectively. 

Meanwhile in New Brunswick, the community group Eastern Charlotte Waterways (ECW) has been awarded a rural transit pilot project grant by Environment and Climate Change Canada.  The federal funding will provide a new ride-share transportation system to the community of Blacks Harbour and the southwest New Brunswick region.

A media release says that issues of mobility and accessibility in rural communities are well documented, and Blacks Harbour is no exception. This pilot project aims to address these transportation issues by providing a fleet of electric cars for community-wide use. It will act as an on-demand door-to-door service. The new rideshare system which will launch in the fall of 2021, is the natural next step in working towards designing sustainable systems for rural communities in Charlotte County.

“ECW’s mandate has always been supporting sustainable projects that benefit local residents and the environment,” says Rick MacMillan, the group’s chair. “This investment will improve accessibility and the livelihoods of people in our community while raising the profile of the village to attract new businesses, visitors, and residents. Providing this climate-friendly ride-share program helps facilitate the community’s potential growth through connectivity.”

Blacks Harbour and the greater southwestern New Brunswick region has not had a public transportation option since the end of the RuralLynx project in 2020. With federal support, ECW will be able to operate an integrated public transportation model, built upon eight years of extensive research and reports from the Southwest Transit Authority Board as well as other community organizations both in and outside the province of New Brunswick. The announcement notes that the ECW team will be working collaboratively with key community partners that include the Charlotte County Multicultural Association and Vibrant Communities Charlotte County to ensure the pilot project is successful in providing all community members with an efficient, affordable and climate-friendly way to get around. This rural transit pilot project is described as an investment in social infrastructure that prioritizes rural communities and facilitates future growth.

FARES REMOVED FROM NOVA SCOTIA PROVINCIAL FERRIES

Passengers on the Englishtown Ferry in Cape Breton will no longer have to pay a fare, nor will users of any other of the intraprovincial ferries in Nova Scotia. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

Drivers in Nova Scotia will no longer have to pay to use any of the province’s seven intra-provincial ferry services, as the provincial government announced the permanent removal of ferry fees in late June. The ferry services, operated by Nova Scotia’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, include those at Englishtown and Little Narrows in Cape Breton, Country Harbour on the Eastern Shore,  Tancook and LaHave on the south shore, and Petit Passage and Grand Passage on Digby Neck.

When announcing the permanent removal of user fees, which had been waived in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, Premier Iain Rankin said the change will make transportation more “affordable and accessible for Nova Scotians”. Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines noted that the fees only covered a small percentage of operating costs, and were inefficient to collect and becoming an increasing burden to administer.

The province hopes that the removal of fees will help to encourage tourism by making more parts of the province more easily accessible, though it’s likely no coincidence that a provincial election is expected in the coming months.

A call for government action on urban transit in these challenging times

By Sheldon Phaneuf

Governments must intervene before it is too late

Urban transit has not escaped the devastating effects of the global pandemic. Service levels have been cut to public transit systems throughout Atlantic Canada. Although there are some systems that have restored service, many remain operating at significantly reduced levels.

Fredericton 50-60%

Moncton 70%

Saint John 70%

St. John’s 65-70%

Senior transit staff and municipal officials have been consistent with their messaging. “Service levels cannot be restored until ridership increases”. How can ridership increase if service is restricted?

There is a pivotal point at which the service cuts that were put in place in response to a temporary decrease in ridership begin to drive rider behaviour. Experts warn that public transit is on the verge of suffering long term consequences and refers to the phenomenon as a “death spiral”.

Ridership decreases. Revenues drop. Service is cut. Ridership further decreases because of a reduced service schedule…and the cycle continues.

If service cuts weren`t enough, the death spiral phenomenon is being further accelerated by passenger capacity restrictions, imposed by provincial health authorities in response to regional COVID-19 outbreaks. These restrictions are necessary to safeguard the health of passengers and transit workers, but the impact on transit systems already crippled by service cuts is overwhelming.

A small change in perspective leads to a significant change in point of view

We can no longer accept the argument from provincial and federal levels of government that urban transit is a “municipal problem”. The fate of public transit cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the cities in which they operate. That does not mean municipal level governments can stand by and watch their transit systems fade into obscurity. The myopic view of public transit is rooted in the ill-informed assumptions of our city councillors, even those who call themselves “transit friendly”.

As long as public transit continues to be viewed as a reviled but necessary line item on municipal budgets, nothing will change. We need a fundamental shift away from the belief that public transit is a drain on municipal finances. Our elected officials must first come to terms with the fact that public transit will never pay for itself. Then they need to recognize that a full-service public transit system is an integral part of the municipal service infrastructure of any successful city. Public transit is an essential service.

Finally, they should consider the fact that public transit is one of the very few municipal services that “self-subsidize”. Public transit offsets its cost by generating revenue for city coffers. Imagine if other municipal services (road maintenance, waste collection, administrative support services, etc.) brought in $40 for every $100 they cost the city to operate, as public transit does. (Source: CUTA Revenue Cost Ratio Data 2018). Ironically, although public transit is one of the few city services to generate revenue, its often the first to suffer service cuts.

Public transit drives regional economic and population growth strategies

In the fall of 2020, the province of New Brunswick declined to participate in a federal relief program for municipal transit after misunderstanding who it was for and what it covered. Provinces were initially supposed to match federal dollars, but loopholes in the program resulted in provincial governments not having to put up any matching dollars. The New Brunswick government decided to fund municipal transit losses under the Federal Safe Restart program, but these funds were exclusively for pandemic related losses and no money was offered to help restore public transit service cuts.

The Nova Scotia provincial government accepted $16 million dollars under the public transit aid program. Coincidently, Halifax Transit returned to 100% full service in September 2020.

Our provincial leaders must pull their heads out of the sand and recognize the important role that public transit plays in regional economic and population growth. Population growth in Atlantic Canada is under threat from an aging population, low birth rates, high rates of out migration and low rates of interprovincial migration. In 2017, the federal government launched the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) to promote immigration in Atlantic Canada. Initial results are promising. In 2019, Atlantic Canada broke previous immigration records and welcomed 18,000 newcomers. These newcomers are professionals, entrepreneurs, working class and students and are typically drawn to the larger urban centres to which they are accustomed and that provide services like an efficient and affordable public transit system.

Public transit requires operational funding from all levels of government

In February 2021, the federal government announced almost $15 billion for public transit over the next eight years. This funding announcement exposes a crucial lack of understanding for what public transit needs to survive. The current federal and provincial investment strategy falls short. It fails to address the immediate and ongoing need for operational funding. Elected officials at all levels of government need to adjust their focus and consider the “return on investment” achieved through operational funding of public transit. 

Funding of public transit plays a vital role in supporting the social welfare network and provides mobility to our seniors, our low-income workers, and our students. Subsidizing efficient and affordable public transit systems will help drive a national strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ongoing operational investment in public transit fuels regional economic and population growth. When our elected officials look through this lens, they will see what advocates of public transit see…and finally begin to understand the social, environmental, and economic benefits of investing in urban transit.

Sheldon Phaneuf is a bus operator at Codiac Transpo in Moncton, and a member of ATU Local 1290

Questions for the parties in the Nova Scotia election

Election day in Nova Scotia is rapidly approaching, so Transport Action Atlantic sent the following six questions to the recognized parties in the Nova Scotia election to find out where they stand on key provincial transportation issues. We will be updating this post with their answers as we receive them.

UPDATE May 27, 2017: Answers from the Progressive Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Green Party, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have been added. No responses received to date from the Atlantica Party.


1. What actions will your government take to restore active rail service to the industrial areas of Cape Breton?

PC Party NS: The PC Caucus has been active in supporting efforts to prevent Genesee & Wyoming from tearing up the Cape Breton portion of the tracks and selling them. A PC government will focus on growing our economy, across the Province. A significant number of discussions have taken place to ensure that infrastructure, such as the rail, is in place as Sydney Port continues to grow. A PC Government will continue to support those efforts.

Liberal Party: The Liberal government has met with the operator of the Cape Breton Railway on a number of occasions to see what could be done to continue the railway line. We changed the regulations around the railway line abandonment process to allow extra time for the affected communities to react. This delay has allowed the local communities to do some reports and look at the potential options for the line. Our Liberal government announced a major investment in Cape Breton by adding a second, multi-use berth to the Port of Sydney this year. It will be a 287-metre berth that can accommodate cruise ships as well as increased cargo-related opportunities. This additional berth and the cargo traffic it could generate will help make the business case that a railway system in industrial Cape Breton may still be necessary.

Green Party: We would collaborate with industry, community, and other stakeholders to determine if and when such service can or should be implemented.  If it is necessary and feasible, we would pursue it.

NDP: We understand how important it is to Cape Breton’s economy to have a rail line connecting its industrial areas to the rest of the province and country. At the June 2016 policy convention of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party, members passed the following resolution:
“Therefore Be It Resolved that the NDP press the Nova Scotia Government to insist that the federal government honour a long-standing commitment by funding the purchase and upgrading of the Sydney to Point Tupper line and turning it over to the province, which would then arrange for a suitable operator.”


2. What actions will your government take in areas of transportation and land usage to ensure that aging populations can continue to live and thrive in their communities?

PC Party NS: Nova Scotian seniors built our province. But after all their contributions, seniors are not getting the respect or support they deserve from the McNeil Liberals. Ensuring that aging populations can thrive in their communities will mean a range of supports that reflect the seniors themselves. A PC government will assist low-income seniors to continue living in their homes with dignity by helping to cover the cost of repair projects. A PC government will also release the next stage of the Continuing Care Strategy and will work to ensure seniors have comprehensive access to home care services and high quality long-term care facilities. Millions of dollars of Liberal cuts to nursing homes mean many seniors are eating on less than $5 per day. That just isn’t right. We will immediately reverse the cuts. We will enshrine in law the Seniors’ Bill of Rights to affirm our commitment to the health and well-being of Nova Scotians living in long-term care facilities, now and in the future. This new law will confirm our commitment to provide quality care and accommodation that is safe, comfortable and supports a high quality of life for seniors in nursing homes. Seniors should never be asked to pay more than their fair share. A PC government will freeze the Seniors’ Pharmacare cost-share ratio to ensure no future government will download additional costs to our seniors.

Liberal Party: A re-elected Liberal government will fully implement the Shift Action Plan over a three-year period. This plan contains over 50 specific actions that will improve the lives of our seniors. Included with the Shift Plan will be support for community transportation solutions, primarily targeted at rural areas of the province. We will partner with existing community transportation initiatives as well as help fund solutions in un-serviced or under-serviced areas in rural Nova Scotia. Losing the ability to drive shouldn’t mean that you lose your ability to stay in your home. We want our seniors to stay in their homes longer and that is why our Liberal government has done so much work on long term care. Since we were elected in 2013, we reduced waiting lists for our nursing homes by over 50%. We were able to do this in part by making it easier and more affordable for seniors to stay in their homes. A re-elected Liberal government will double down on our commitment to have seniors remain in their home by expanding the eligibility of the Caregiver Benefit program. This will qualify an additional 1,600 people for $400 per month in support to help our seniors stay in their homes longer.

Green Party: We will pursue community-based health care, including home care options. We will implement a living minimum wage, to ensure that caregiving is an option for more people.  We will pursue a basic income guarantee, which would allow families to prioritize caregiving of aging relatives where that is a choice they would like to make.

NDP: While in government, the NDP introduced a Sustainable Transportation Strategy. In 2013, we invested more than $650,000 through the Community Transportation Assistance Program (CTAP) to help 14 community-based transportation organizations fund their operations. While the current Government has continued to provide funding to a number of sustainable transportation initiatives, we know that there is more work to be done.
An NDP government will provide $7 million in core funding to sustainable transportation initiatives. We will build on ongoing work to establish sustainable, affordable and accessible fixed-route transit services in small centres around the province. Whether it’s getting to work, medical appointments or the grocery store, we need to help those who do not have their own means of transportation and encourage those who do to lessen their carbon footprint by using public transit.
In addition, an NDP government will partner with the Halifax Regional Municipality to to support bringing in commuter rail to help residents get in and around the municipality. We have committed to providing up to $5 million to help fund annual operating costs.


3. There is currently no scheduled public transportation service to most of southwestern Nova Scotia – Service ends at Upper Tantallon on the South Shore and Weymouth in Digby County. What would your government do to change this situation?

PC Party NS: A PC government will work with municipalities and support them in their efforts to improve transit infrastructure. We will also be twinning the most dangerous stretches of Nova Scotia highway, including on the 103, and doubling the funding for road repairs under the Rural Impact Mitigation Program so that all vehicles traveling can do so more safely and efficiently. A PC government will implement its 10-year plan to grow our economy while improving our key infrastructure through the Rebuild Nova Scotia fund.

Liberal Party: Our government offers the Nova Scotia Transit Research Incentive program in the Department of Municipal Affairs. This incentive offers funding for transit projects that generate new or improved public transit services in rural or underserviced urban areas of Nova Scotia. This primarily comes in the form of cost sharing with varying levels depending on the scope and complexity of the transit project. A number of feasibility studies and business plans have been completed under the program, most recently in Victoria and Yarmouth.

Green Party: We would seek to cooperate with municipalities to integrate and expand municipal transit services wherever possible.  We would consider subsidies on rail or bus services to rural Nova Scotian communities.

NDP: An NDP government would work with the province’s southwestern municipalities to establish community transportation services


4. Transportation is responsible for the second-largest portion of our Province’s carbon emissions (after electricity generation). At the moment, the Department of Energy has been taking the lead on work to reduce these emissions, with the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal taking a secondary role. Will your government commit to better harmonize the actions of these two departments, or to otherwise better implement a strategy for reducing transportation’s carbon emissions?

PC Party NS: As Progressive Conservatives, we’re proud to have passed the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (EGSPA). It was ground-breaking legislation that set our province on the path to a greener, more successful future. Now, we must build on that success. A Jamie Baillie government will modernize EGSPA and set new targets for the next 30 years. These new goals will form part of the accountability of all Ministers with regulatory role that is implicated.

Liberal Party: Our Liberal government has negotiated a made-in-Nova Scotia solution to carbon pricing with our federal partners, which will result in a cap & trade system to regulate emissions and emissions targets. A re-elected Liberal government will table and implement legislation to create Nova Scotia cap & trade system, which will be the responsibility of Nova Scotia Environment. To implement a cap and trade system will require a multi department effort.

Green Party: Yes, we support the harmonization with the Department of Transportation, and we firmly support measures to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions.

NDP: We believe Nova Scotia can lead the country in clean energy generation and fighting climate change. Sustainable
transportation is part of our plan for transitioning to a green economy, which also includes legislating a hard target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, continuing the work of Efficiency Nova Scota in reducing energy consumption, working towards a carbon-neutral government, establishing new programs for renewable energy generation, and promoting active transportation and healthy lifestyles.
As part of this strategy, an NDP government will work with the Departments of Energy, Environment and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to ensure communication and cooperation as we move forward in our plan for emissions reduction.


5. Will your government commit to having Public transportation explicitly included in one of your minister’s responsibilities? (Rather than being only implicitly being included in Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal, as is the case today).

PC Party NSA PC government will work with all levels of government, focused on results. The federal government has prioritized transit in its infrastructure spending priorities and a PC government will do everything possible to ensure that Nova Scotia receives its fair share.

Liberal Party: At the present time creating a separate ministry or responsibility for public transportation is not something that is under consideration by our government.

Green Party: The Green Party of Nova Scotia does not have a clear policy on the structure of the government department, but we would consider such a measure, particularly if doing so promised efficiency and effective provision of public transit services.

NDP: This is a change we would be willing to consider if elected.


6. Will your government commit to ensuring that future highway developments do not facilitate urban sprawl?

PC Party NSA PC government intends to work collaboratively with municipalities and the UNSM to ensure that highway developments not only make travel safer, but meet the existing and future needs of Nova Scotians. Community engagement will be a central part of a PC government’s approach to development.

Liberal Party: While urban sprawl can be a concerning development when it is unchecked it is our belief that the primary driver of this phenomenon is urban planning that restricts density within a city’s urban core. Residents who are unable to find appropriate housing where they work will be forced to live outside an urban space and commute to it. Our government believes that Nova Scotians should have the right to live and work in a variety of communities, both urban and rural, and that it is the responsibility of the provincial government to facilitate these choices by providing adequate, safe transportation between destinations within our province. A re-elected Liberal government will add an additional $390 million dollars to twin highways around our province without the use of tolls. We believe that this will make our roads safer and provide the critical infrastructure Nova Scotians need for their employment and to facilitate the transit of goods and services across the province. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal makes decisions for highway twinning based on vehicle volume on our roadways. In addition to our twinning plan, a re-elected Liberal government will spend an additional $30 million to put towards additional safety measures on un-twinned areas of 100 series highways.

Green Party: As a member of the Northwest Planning Advisory Council for five years, I [Deputy Leader Jessica Alexander] regularly advocated for increased urban density to reduce vehicular traffic.  In my home community of Lower Sackville, increased urban sprawl was not related highway development, but a matter of land-use bylaws and the municipal planning strategy which prioritized parking availability over a pedestrian-accessible central development plan, as well as an increase on unserviced, estate-sized lots being developed in outlying areas.  I believe that wherever possible, we can increase density by insisting that new developments be on city water and sewer services in suburban, and in the city by ensuring that condominium laws are efficient and friendly to both the buying market and to the developer. Highway developments are not part of the Green 2017 platform.

NDP:  We know that the safety and quality of our highways and roads is important to Nova Scotians, and we will take the necessary steps to maintain them. However, our aim is to reduce the strain on our highways and roads–and the level of pollution in our province–by expanding and improving our public transportation system in communities across the province.