Premier Darrell Dexter touched a nerve when he dismissed the local economic impact of his government’s decision to cancel subsidization of the Yarmouth to Maine ferry service in December 2009, during an interview on CBC radio last week.
The Premier characterized as mythology the idea that loss of the ferry has been devastating to the local economy. He said the decision, which resulted in cancellation of the privately operated service in 2010, had little impact on southwestern Nova Scotia.
Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill responded with frustration and outrage when he learned of the Premier’s statements.
If the service is not recognized as an economic driver, Churchill asked, “Why is the province committing $21 million in support of a new service?”
In a report commissioned by the government to study the ferry situation, an expert panel concluded that the ferry is an important economic driver for the region and has impacts across the province.
Churchill told the Vanguard that, as the Liberal tourism critic, it is one of the first issues tourism operators raise when he visits, whether it is in Baddeck or Liverpool.
“That decision has affected tourism right across the province,” he said.
As a result of the report, released last fall, the provincial government initiated a request-for-proposal process to identify potential operators. It has committed up to $21 million over seven years to support establishment of a new ferry link to replace the one severed in 2009. Potential operators for a new service have until Jan. 24 to respond to the provincial government’s request for proposals.
Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont said that the negative impact of the decision is still being felt.
“Businesses are closing, people are leaving, there are record high job losses, and food bank use is skyrocketing as people struggle to feed their families,” he said in a written statement.
Yarmouth’s MLA says the impact can be seen in the numbers.
“We’ve lost 3,700 full time jobs and 2,800 people have left southern Nova Scotia since the Dexter government cut the ferry,” said Churchill, adding that what’s left of the local tourism industry is on shaky ground.
“We’ve had the largest exodus of Nova Scotians out of all regions [in the province], in south west Nova Scotia. More people have left southwest Nova Scotia than anywhere else and more people have lost their jobs,” he said.
His message to the premier, “Stop playing defensive politics with this issue. Let it rest and let’s get a ferry back.”