Bay Ferries might need another gov’t lifeline

HALIFAX — Atlantic businesses and industry groups are urging local and federal governments to do what they can to keep the Saint John-Digby, N.S. ferry afloat.

The government’s aid package is drying up, reports The N.B. Business Journal, and that means the fate of the marine cargo route is a hot button topic once again.

The Bay of Fundy Transportation Coalition — which includes local chambers of commerce, as well as trucking, fishing and tourism groups — would like to see the route recognized as a government-supported highway, somewhat like how Marine Atlantic is treated.

The coalition says the Princess of Acadia, operated by Bay Ferries Ltd., is essential to the economies of coastal New Brunswick and western Nova Scotia and want to ensure it’s running reliably for years to come.

Currently, a government subsidy is keeping the ferry service sailing. But that $19 million lifeline ($11 million from Ottawa) is scheduled to run out by the year’s end.

"We’ve got businesses here that are considering expansion, but that expansion depends on that ferry service being here," said Jim Thurber, who heads the lobbying group.

Without the ferry, trucks would have to drive across the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border, adding many hours and added expenses to the trip.

Donald Cormier, a vice-president with Bay Ferries, says the vessel could run without government support years ago, but a weakening forestry sector, depressed tourism industry, and high energy prices changed all that.

"The economic or business climate would have to change in order to sustain the service without public funding," Cormier told the Journal.

The fate of the year-round ferry now hinges on a consultant’s report, expected to be completed in March. 

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