Newfoundland Ferry Rates – a provincial election issue?

Transport Action Atlantic is an all-volunteer non-partisan advocacy organization, with a history dating back nearly half a century. Our mandate is to promote and campaign for convenient, affordable and sustainable public transportation services for Atlantic Canadians. That’s why we’re asking what we believe is an important question during the current Newfoundland and Labrador election campaign.

TAA has been increasingly concerned at the serious escalation in Marine Atlantic ferry rates, which have more than doubled over the past two decades because of increased cost recovery demands from Transport Canada. An updated backgrounder on this issue is available HERE.

Why should a federally funded ferry service be an issue in a provincial election? Because it’s apparent that the Government of Canada is not meeting its obligations under the 1949 Terms of Union, and provincial politicians should be taking them to task.

We are inviting parties and candidates in this campaign to present their views on this critical issue. TAA believes that the ferry service between Port aux Basques and North Sydney should be considered a part of the Trans Canada Highway, and that the cost to users should be comparable to driving the same 180-km distance. That principle was incorporated in the 1949 Terms of Union, under which Newfoundland and Labrador became Canada’s tenth province, which specifically addressed railway rates as that was the dominant transport mode at the time. Highway has now completely superseded rail, but we maintain that the spirit in which the Terms of Union were originally drafted should be fully respected. The Government of Canada appears unwilling to do this – despite a commitment made by Justin Trudeau as opposition leader prior to the 2015 federal election. Clearly, it falls to provincial politicians to speak out and demand that Ottawa meet its constitutional obligations.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, with air transportation in serious crisis and unlikely to recover in the near future, affordable ferry service is particularly important to the struggling tourism sector. If the Atlantic Bubble is restored by summer 2021, Marine Atlantic will be uniquely positioned to bring significant numbers of visitors from the Maritimes – if the price is right.

Accordingly, we are requesting answers to these questions:

1.         Does your party support the principle that the ferry service between Port aux Basques and North Sydney is a part of the Trans Canada Highway, and as such the cost to users should be comparable to travelling the equivalent distance by road?

2.         Regardless of the outcome of the February 13 provincial election, will your party demand a full review of the existing Marine Atlantic ferry rates to ensure that the Government of Canada is compliant with the spirit of the 1949 Terms of Union?

TAA has sent the above questions to the parties, and we are awaiting their responses. Meanwhile, we suggest that voters who are concerned about ferry rates should engage their local candidates on the issue.