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.
Subtopic: Ferry Services to Prince Edward Island