May 8, 2015

NDP

Nathan Cullen

New Democratic Party

Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Motion No. 591, concerning the ferry between Wood Island, P.E.I. and Caribou, Nova Scotia.

As somebody who represents northwestern British Columbia in this place, we know the ferry system as well as anybody does. It is good to support our friends and fellow Canadians on the other side of the country who are dealing with a government that has shown inconsistent support to the ferry services across Canada and has fallen far short of promises made by the Canadian government, time and time again.

The fact that the government could not even bring itself, in hundreds of pages of the 2015 budget, to even mention Wood Island and the vital ferry service shows where the government's priorities are. It is certainly not with the people of P.E.I. and Nova Scotia. That is the reality. Those are the choices it is making.

The government has lots of money for unfair income-splitting initiatives, $2 billion-plus for that. It has billions more for other pet projects. However, when it comes to vital services that actually help Canadians stay connected to other Canadians and when it comes to helping services that actually help our economy, the Conservatives are nowhere to be found.

We saw it again today with 20,000 more jobs lost in the Canadian market. That parenthetically marks 16 months in a row that Canada has had less than 1% growth in our economy, which is the worst stretch of economic performance outside of a recession in the last 40 years. The Conservatives are wrapping themselves in this idea of how well they are doing on the economy, except for the facts. The facts are the facts that Canadians face each and every day.

It goes without saying that many of the services like the one we are talking about today, and many other ferry services across the country, pay for themselves in whatever support is offered by the government. If we look around the world, particularly the developed world, the developed nations in Europe, Australia and whatnot, the ferry services provided there, and the strength of the central government, is much stronger and consistent than what we have in Canada.

Coming from British Columbia, as anyone who has ever visited the coast of B.C. from south all the way through to the north, ferries are an integral link. They are in fact our highway system. If people are driving down Highway 16 in northern British Columbia and get to Prince Rupert, they get on the ferry and keep going when they get to the other side, in Haida Gwaii, some four or five hours away on the ferry. I have taken that ferry many times.

It is a vital link. To suggest that it does not deserve support would be like saying to people in the Greater Toronto Area that there will be no support for development on Highway 401, or saying to people along the TransCanada, that it is not a vital link anymore. For us, the ferry service is exactly what it is. It is a link between us and the rest of the country.

When B.C. entered confederation, as part of the deal, the Government of Canada promised to support ferry service. Yet, what we have seen from consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments is a constant bleeding of the funds, a constant shortfall, again and again.

The B.C. ferry service, to put this into some context, moves more than 20 million British Columbians, other Canadians and visitors every year; 20 million people get on and off ferries in British Columbia. That is an absolutely essential component, not just to our tourism economy, which is obviously vibrant and vital to the people of British Columbia, but it is essential to just about every part of the economy. People living on Vancouver Island or any of the southern or northern gulf islands, or where I live on the north coast, the ferry service is essential, yet it is not treated as an essential service by the government. We have seen cutbacks year after year on the north coast routes. We have seen prices continue to climb, while service continues to drop.

Again, the Conservatives pretend to be good at business, but imagine a business that offered less and less service of a lower and lower quality and charged more and more for the product. The business would not last very long, but that is exactly how the Conservatives have treated the ferry service in British Columbia with their partners in Victoria, the so-called Liberal government of Christy Clark.

What they have done, year after year, is cut back support for the ferry services. The Conservatives have mismanaged it entirely. They have done what Conservatives always do with vital crown corporations, with vital services, they have privatized it. We know how the promises always go when Conservative politicians get up and say they that will privatize something and let the private sector do better. What the private sector has done to the ferry service in British Columbia has been nothing but a disaster. It was good at one thing, which was paying executives a lot of money. The previous CEO of BC Ferries made more than $1 million, each and every year he was CEO as he was cutting services to British Columbians and raising the costs.

The new CEO took a huge pay cut, coming in at a little north of half a million dollars a year. I just do not know how he makes ends meet. That must be tough. He has two vice-presidents who are making more than $650,000 a year to run the ferry system. To put that into some context, just south of us, in Washington state, the same job is being done by a CEO at $145,000. That is a sixth of what they are paying themselves in British Columbia, yet they claim poverty. They claim poverty when it comes time to actually provide services to British Columbians.

For the routes I represent in northern British Columbia, going from Prince Rupert to beautiful Haida Gwaii, the very western tip of this country, a place that, for any Canadian or anyone who has the fortune to go there, burns in the memory--it is a magnificent place, a place we all should get to--this ferry service is essential for business and tourism.

However, for the nearly 5,000 people who live on Haida Gwaii, often just getting to a dentist appointment or a medical appointment or having a baby requires them to leave the island and take the ferry across. That can run, for a family of four, up to nearly $1,000 just to get back to the mainland to get basic services, because the downturn in the economy on that island has been so devastating that they have lost many of their essential services. They have closed so many of the important things that for any particular care people might need they have to come off the island, and they are hit with this huge tax.

The subsidy that came from the federal government, which was promised by the federal government to British Columbia, was consistent for a while and has since started to roll into general revenues, as Conservatives are so wont to do. They take a very specific thing for a very specific and important measure and they roll it all into general revenues. Guess what happens to it when it goes there, into the black hole of Conservative economics and government. It can go into any project and anything they deem to be important to them on any given day. That is a problem for us, because we see dedicated money just not going to the dedicated purpose.

The effect on places like Bella Bella, Bella Coola, and some of the smaller coastal communities along the central and north coasts has been even more devastating. These are vital and vibrant communities, yet they require that connection, as any Canadian does, of transportation to get across to talk with and visit people, do business, and be with family and friends.

To us, this has been a reprehensible approach to government. We have long put in our platforms, as New Democrats, year after year, more and stronger, consistent support for ferry services on the west coast. It is good that we are being joined by our Liberal colleagues now to talk about sustainable ferry service, predicable ferry service. We have to keep in mind, particularly for those businesses that rely on the tourist trade in Îles de la Madeleine and on the east coast, along with the west coast, the unpredictability the Conservatives are causing now by saying they are in consultation, while the contract is running out

For those who are in the tourism business, the time to make money is a very tight window of three, four, or five months, maybe. If they are setting up that operation and hiring staff, and they do not know if or what kind of ferry service they are going to have to their island and to their business, that can be devastating, because those people looking to come to visit make their decisions four and five months out, because they sometimes travel from far away. If they do not know if they are able to get there, they are not going to come.

We saw this last year with BC Ferries, which has this so-called private-sector approach, being such brilliant managers of something like the ferry service. They had actually allowed construction companies to book virtually the entire deck of what was a now reduced ferry, just in case they wanted to put any equipment on it. People were phoning BC Ferries, a privately run company that is supposed to be efficient, and were being told that the ferry was full, so people did not come, because they had to come from far away to the get to the north coast, to Prince Rupert, just to get over to Haida Gwaii and some of the other islands. Therefore, the ferry was sailing 40% to 50% empty most of the time, because the construction companies were not coming up, and they were not paying for any of the space.

This is the Conservative world view of how to run an essential service. It is terrible business practice. It is awful public management practice, because it hurts communities that, in some cases, are just struggling to hang on, doing all they can to remain vital and a contributing part of Canadian society.

We have known that for many years the subsidy from the federal government to the 20 million passengers who ride B.C. ferries is around $1.40 a year, which is dramatically less than it is in other parts of the country. We do not wish the other parts of the country, the east coast in particular, to come down to our level, because we see the results in massive cuts, layoffs, strife and uncertainty. We want to bring it up to a reliable and vibrant ferry service. That is what the country needs. It is what the economy needs.

The Conservatives say that they are concerned about the economy and that they want to reverse the trend of anemic job growth for 16 months now, which the Governor of the Bank of Canada called an atrocious situation with respect to our economy. Let us start with the practical things, the smart things, such as helping out the ferry service. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Conservatives will not support this motion. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Conservatives so consistently look to bleed the ferry system across this country, from east to west to north, to the point where people cannot rely on it anymore. It is what helps connect this country. It is what helps keeps us strong.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Ferry Services to Prince Edward Island
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LIB

Sean Casey

Liberal

Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport speak, he described this motion as the annual Chicken Little motion from the member for Cardigan. While I thought that was a terribly insulting thing to say, I remembered the story of Chicken Little, which was that there was alarm unnecessarily raised over the fact that the sky was falling when, in fact, the sky was not falling. Therefore, when he described it as Chicken Little motion, I thought the Conservatives would support the motion and the ferry service. This is a motion that says that things could go badly, but they will not go badly at all. Then at the end of his remarks, he indicated they would not be supporting the motion. The government's position on this motion will only add to the sense of abandonment that Prince Edward Islanders feel from the government.

I am probably one of the better customers of this ferry service due to the fact that 27 years ago I married a Cape Bretoner. I am the father of two St. Francis Xavier University graduates and I can say, with some experience, that the drive from the soccer field at St. Francis Xavier University to the Caribou ferry terminal is exactly 51 minutes. I have done it on several occasions. I have had more than my share of the Islander breakfast special onboard the Holiday Island, the very fine clam chowder it serves. If one is lucky enough to hit the MV Confederation, there is nothing quite like the COWS ice cream that is served on board.

Up front, I need to declare my personal bias. As a fellow Prince Edward Islander, I am very proud to speak to the motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Cardigan. He has been, and continues to be, a true champion for the ferry service in Wood Islands because he understands that it is a vital service to Prince Edward Island and his constituents, in particular.

There are many things to love about living in Prince Edward Island, although this past winter would not be one of them. One of the things to love about Prince Edward Island is its proximity to the water. Beaches are close at hand, and spending days on the water or near the water is a favourite pastime of Islanders and visitors alike. The only downside to being surrounded by water on all sides is that it makes travel a bit more complicated.

Thankfully, for eight months of the year, there are two options for travelling off island. Many Islanders have family, work commitments or travel plans in Nova Scotia and the Northumberland ferry, which travels from Wood Islands to Caribou, provides an additional, reliable method of transportation.

The motion today calls on the government to ensure a safe, efficient and sustainable transportation system for Prince Edward Island. It is a little troubling that the member for Cardigan has to move a motion in the House of Commons to seek stable, adequate funding for a service that has proven to be necessary and valuable to two separate local economies. In my view, this should be a logical decision.

As I prepared my notes for the motion, it became increasingly obvious to me that this was an issue, and will continue to be an issue, until the government acknowledged that it need not be an issue. In 2010, the five-year contract negotiated in 2005 by the Liberal government expired. At the time, there was a concern in our province that the federal government would cut its funding altogether, which would have resulted in the loss of one of the two ferries or the entire ferry service. With the hon. member for Cardigan leading the charge, support flooded in from the good people of Prince Edward Island, as well as from the communities in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

The Council of Atlantic Premiers called upon the government to put in place a 15-year funding agreement for the Northumberland ferry service. Of course, in 2010, the premiers of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia were Liberal and New Democrat respectively. This may have had an impact on why the next funding agreement was for only three years.

The next agreement after that was for just one year, followed by an additional two years in Budget 2014. Perhaps coincidentally, we also saw a Liberal premier in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island at the time.

The Northumberland ferry provides islanders with one of only two links to the rest of Canada. The other, of course, is the Confederation Bridge, which links Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick. For people living in the eastern end of Prince Edward Island, the ferry service is a faster and safer alternative to driving across the island and back through Nova Scotia to reach their ultimate destination.

I realize that many of my colleagues in this House are not so fortunate as to be from Atlantic Canada. For those who are less familiar with Prince Edward Island, let me try to explain the importance of the Northumberland ferry.

From May to December, the ferry provides a central link from Wood Islands to Caribou, Nova Scotia. In the fall semester, Prince Edward Island students who are attending that fine educational institution at St. Francis Xavier University, Cape Breton University or the universities in Halifax or the Annapolis Valley use the ferry to get themselves to and from university. This also applies to Nova Scotia students attending the University of Prince Island or Holland College. For many students, the fee to walk on the ferry is significantly lower than the cost of driving across Nova Scotia to get to the Confederation Bridge. In many ways, it is much safer to board the ferry and to take a break from driving.

The ferry welcomes approximately half a million passengers travelling between Wood Islands and Pictou; that is half a million passengers on an island of 145,000 people. This includes students, but it also includes visitors who are either from Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, or they are visitors who want to see more than one maritime province during their trip to the east coast of Canada.

I look forward to the support from some of our Nova Scotia colleagues from across the aisle. This is not and should not be an issue solely for Prince Edward Island. Besides visitors, students and islanders looking to travel off-island, the ferry transports nearly 160,000 vehicles including 18,000 commercial trucks. Tourism is a major component of the Prince Edward Island economy, and the ability to get to and from the island is perhaps the most important component of our tourism strategy. Year-to-year funding or a two-year funding agreement is just not cutting it for the Northumberland ferry.

The Minister of Transport, who is also originally a Cape Bretoner, is no doubt aware of the importance of the ferry service. The Minister of Justice represents the riding of Central Nova, which includes Pictou County, the home of the Nova Scotia ferry terminal. I can say that I have personally seen the Minister of Justice on board. I have also seen the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands on board the Northumberland ferry for one particular crossing. That probably, again, speaks to her Cape Breton roots. Surely they understand that the ferry service is important, and that multi-year funding would be hugely beneficial to the local service. I am hopeful that the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Justice and their colleagues are prepared to support this motion. These short-term contracts do nothing to inspire confidence or security in Northumberland Ferries Limited. This is a vital service that has proven itself year after year, but the government still refuses to make a long-term commitment.

As the motion reads, the member for Cardigan is seeking a minimum of five years of stable funding. The economic impact of the ferry service to Prince Edward Island is approximately $27 million, and over $12 million to Nova Scotia. The service is extremely important to Prince Edward Island. It is not only important to our economy and to our people who are employed by Northumberland Ferries; it is also important because, as the member for Cardigan mentioned in his speech, the ferry service connects the Trans-Canada Highway from Wood Islands to Caribou, Nova Scotia. The ferry service offers P.E.I. a physical and symbolic link to the rest of Canada.

I have a couple more points. In any business, uncertainty is the enemy. For the people of Northumberland Ferries to be able to properly plan their business, their capital expenditures and their commitments to their employees, long-term stable funding is a must.

I would also add that probably the most dangerous stretch of highway in Atlantic Canada is the Cobequid Pass between Amherst and Truro. This ferry allows people to avoid that stretch of highway, thereby saving lives.

Business travellers have a chance to be much more productive on their travel between provinces as a result of the availability of Wi-Fi on the ferry.

This is a good and sensible motion from my hon. colleague. He is simply asking the government to make a multi-year commitment. I hope the House will support him on this motion. I certainly will be proudly voting for it.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Ferry Services to Prince Edward Island
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CPC

Maurice Vellacott

Conservative

Mr. Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to speak to this private member's motion on ferry services between Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island, and Caribou, Nova Scotia, brought forward by the good member for Cardigan. I have known him a long time. He has served honourably in the House. He is a good man, and I am sure that he has the very best intent with the motion that he proposes here today.

Motion No. 591 proposes that the federal government recognize the importance of the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service, that the government commit to stable, long-term, sustainable and adequate funding by ensuring that all future contracts with the current ferry operator are for at least five years, and that the government maintain or exceed the current level of service.

Our government understands the importance of this ferry service to Prince Edward Island. Our members, individually, use this ferry service and have used other ferry services across the country. I have, and I certainly appreciate the tremendous value of the ferries in our country.

This ferry contributes toward a sustainable economy. It meets the diverse transportation needs of the island's businesses and communities. It connects friends and families across the Northumberland Strait. It allows tourists to explore the far corners of Atlantic Canada. It helps to maintain some very vibrant communities in that part of our nation.

The government has a long history of supporting ferry services across Canada. Most recently, in June 2014, our government announced an investment of $58 million in federal funding to support the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service and two other eastern Canada ferry services until March 31, 2016. At the very same time, our government also stated that it remains committed to examining options for a long-term approach for the delivery of the eastern Canada ferry services. This work is still ongoing with Transport Canada officials working closely with private operators, the Atlantic provinces, and with Quebec, as well. Our government wants to ensure that the analysis is complete and that an assessment has been done before it determines how best to support ferry services in the future.

That said, this government does support the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service, and it has supported it in a consistent and long-standing fashion. I will describe the many ways in which the federal government supports the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service.

Since 2006, the federal government has invested $100 million in supporting this service. In addition to this significant level of funding of $100 million, the government leases two terminals and charters the MV Holiday Island and the MV Confederation to the ferry operator at a nominal cost of $1 for each vessel and $500 only for each terminal per year. That support has ensured that the operator has been able to provide a safe, efficient and reliable service since the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry was established back in 1941. This is important to all Canadians and particularly to those who are from that area, and our government recognizes that. Our government has made these investments because it recognizes that ferries are a part of the social and economic fabric of the coastal regions, in particular. They link families, communities and businesses together to make a strong and more integrated Canada.

I would also note that our commitment to ferry services goes beyond just the Wood Islands ferry service. Our government is also supporting two other privately operated ferry services on Canada's east coast, and it also provides an annual grant to the Province of British Columbia for coastal ferry services.

I want to first speak about the Saint John, New Brunswick, to Digby, Nova Scotia, ferry service, which some members in the House will be familiar with. The legacy of ferry services on the Bay of Fundy runs very deep. The Saint John to Digby ferry service was first established in the early 1900s and has received government support through most of its history. The responsibility for the Saint John to Digby ferry service has changed hands over the years. It was operated by Marine Atlantic from 1986 until 1997, and then the service was commercialized to a private operator following a competitive process. Following its commercialization, government support for this service was phased out.

However, by 2006, it became clear that some level of public subsidy and support was required to maintain a viable service, so at that time, the federal government and the Province of New Brunswick and the Province of Nova Scotia stepped in to ensure that the region continued to be served by an interprovincial ferry service.

Since this time, our government has invested $43 million in support of this service. In addition, our government also purchased a replacement vessel for the 44-year-old MV Princess of Acadia, at a cost of $44.6 million. That new vessel, which has yet to be officially named, is expected to be in service this year, in 2015. Thanks to that investment, the government has ensured the continued safe, reliable, and efficient operation of the Saint John to Digby service.

The second privately operated ferry service supported by this government on Canada's east coast is the Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec to Souris, Prince Edward Island ferry. That ferry service was established in 1971 and has been receiving federal support since that time.

Les Îles de la Madeleine are a remote set of islands only accessible on a year-round basis by government-supported ferry and air services, with the ferry service being the primary means of accessing the islands. In support of this ferry, our government has invested $118 million since 2006 to ensure that residents, tourists, and businesses have a reliable alternative to air services.

Les Îles de la Madeleine service was not always a year-round ferry service. Our government heard the requests from residents and businesses on les Îles de la Madeleine for a year-round ferry service and responded.

In 2009, our government began supporting an extended winter service in February and March because we recognized the contribution this made toward a more sustainable economy for les Îles de la Madeleine. Extending the winter services required an additional financial investment from our federal government, and included chartering an ice-class ferry to push the ice away in the winter months so the operator could safely navigate the icy Gulf of St. Lawrence waters.

Our government made this investment because it recognized the substantial benefits for residents, including decreased transportation costs and increased economic opportunities for local businesses.

Our government's support is also extended to contributing to ferry services on British Columbia's coast, as was mentioned earlier. As part of an agreement, in 1977, the federal government and Province of British Columbia determined that federal support for ferry services within British Columbia would be provided through a yearly indexed grant. The initial grant was set at $8 million, and has grown to over $28 million in 2014. That money is used by the Province of British Columbia to support BC Ferries coastal services.

As members can note from my remarks, we are committed to supporting ferry services across Canada, including the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service. What this government can do, and what we are doing, is working with provinces and ferry operators to complete the examination of options for a long-term, predictable, and sustainable approach to the delivery of the eastern Canada ferry services. Supporting this motion in its current form would prematurely jeopardize that analysis, which would undermine an important opportunity to find the right approach.

For the reasons I have outlined today, our government is unable to support the private member's Motion No. 591, but we definitely support ferry services all across our fair land.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Ferry Services to Prince Edward Island
Permalink
CPC

Bruce Stanton

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton)

The time provided for private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Before we adjourn, I want to remind all hon. members that we have a very special day coming up this Sunday.

On behalf of the Speaker, I want to wish all hon. members and all staff of the House a wonderful day this Sunday, as we celebrate and pay tribute to our mothers, our grandmothers and all of the women in our life whom we love. Happy Mother's Day to everyone.

It being 2:25 p.m., this House stands adjourned until next Monday, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:25 p.m.)

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Ferry Services to Prince Edward Island
Permalink

May 8, 2015