Community will not give up ferry service without a fight

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By Michael Gorman


The people of Yarmouth County are not prepared to give up their link to New England without a fight.

Following an announcement this morning from Bay Ferries Ltd. that they are cancelling the upcoming season for the Cat Ferry, which sails between Yarmouth and Bar Harbour and Portland Maine, a press conference was held by area Tory MLAs Chris d’Entremont of Argyle and Richard Hurlburt of Yarmouth.

Mark MacDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries, said the decision to cancel service was made as a result of a number of economic challenges the service faces and in light of news this week from the provincial government that they would not be subsidizing the service. Bay Ferries was looking for between $6-7 million for the upcoming sailing season.

Both area MLAs stressed the need to fight immediately to keep the boat. “This is not a subsidy of Bay Ferries,” said Hurlburt, “it’s an investment in the economy of Nova Scotia.” Hurlburt said the area must organize to go to Halifax next week to lobby the premier, who is currently out of the country attending the world climate change conference in Denmark.

It was stressed that the news will have a province-wide impact and operators from around the province are already calling Hurlburt and d’Entremont. Besides the 120 Bay Ferries employees that will lose their jobs, there is also concern about the trickle-down impact on tourism operators, restaurants, infrastructure, local businesses and even customs agents in the area.

Karen MacKay of the Grand Hotel and Colony Harbour Inn said both facilities would be forced to close if there is no ferry service in the Yarmouth area. Other local operators said not having the traffic generated by the ferry in the summer months could be the death knell for their respective businesses.

An emergency meeting of all area municipal units, MLAs and MP Greg Kerr is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at Yarmouth town hall.

What Hurlburt and d’Entremont said was particularly frustrating about the news was that no one from this area was contacted for their opinion on the subject or to be informed for the government’s decision until this morning. Hurlburt, in fact, said he received a “courtesy call” from the deputy minister of economic development five minutes before a news release was issued.

Neil Hisgen, who along with his partner Michael Tavares operates several bed and breakfasts as well as a small conference centre in Yarmouth, said their business relies on the traffic generated by the ferry in the summer. “We would have nothing in the summer without the boat,” he said.

D’Entremont said he doesn’t understand why the province made such an important decision while the premier and Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau, the MLA for Shelburne, an area sure to feel the impact of this decision, aren’t in the country. He also noted that the MLAs for ridings all along the South Shore are sitting members of government and surely they could understand the dire impact of such a decision.

There was also concern that the decision was made ahead of an ACOA-funded transportation survey of the entire South West area. D’Entremont said Minister of Economic Development Percy Paris told him they didn’t have the time to wait for the survey results before making the decision. “120 people at Bay Ferries are laid off today,” he said. “Merry freaking Christmas.”

More news as this story develops.

Organizations: Bay Ferries Ltd., Grand Hotel and Colony Harbour Inn

Geographic location: Yarmouth County, New England, Bar Harbour Portland Maine Nova Scotia Halifax Denmark Shelburne South Shore South West

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