Opposition leader Jamie Baillie said Monday he will either renegotiate or scrap altogether Nova Scotia’s “one-sided deal” with Bay Ferries Ltd. if the next election puts him in power.

“The McNeil government is locked in, but I will cancel this deal after the next election,” Baillie said of the Portland-to-Yarmouth ferry. “I will start with the existing operator, but if they won’t reopen the deal, then I will cancel it.”

The latest details to emerge about the deal that brought back ferry service to Yarmouth show “the McNeil government got suckered,” Baillie said.

Last year, the provincial government signed a 10-year deal with Bay Ferries to operate the high-speed ferry service. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal said last March that it was providing $19.6 million in funding for the ferry’s first two seasons and another $4.1 million in startup costs, as well as $9.1 million for the ferry’s retrofit in lieu of two years of charter fees.

The total committed by the province as of March last year: about $32.8 million.

Now some of the finer details of that investment are starting to emerge.


In a letter sent to the chair of the public accounts committee in mid-December, deputy minister Paul LaFleche listed how more than $465,000 (U.S. dollars) was spent to repair a docking ramp and terminal building in Portland at the expense of Nova Scotia taxpayers.

“Upgrades were performed on the Portland side that cost $630,000 (Canadian), which was under the $1 million estimated cost,” Marla MacInnis, a spokeswoman for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said in an interview.

“The work was undertaken to accommodate the different vessel,” she said. “The Cat’s service and schedule favors Nova Scotia economically.”

Certainly, the Yarmouth-Portland ferry service is a boon to the Maine city.

“We’re happy to have the connection with Yarmouth and continue that long history,” Jessica Grondin, a spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said in an interview Monday.

“It does impact our tourism levels and the spending in our city.”


The city of Portland invested about $700,000 (U.S.) on the catwalk, fencing and security upgrades before the startup of the previous ferry service company’s operations. But when Nova Star Cruises’ ferry service shut down and the province gave the contract to Bay Ferries, the tab for any further upgrades was picked up by Canadian taxpayers.

Baillie says that’s a sweet deal for Portland but a lousy one for Nova Scotians.

“It’s a terrible deal,” he said. “They got the gold mine and we got the shaft.”

The leader of the Progressive Conservatives predicts the existing deal will wind up costing Nova Scotians $100 million – and that’s only if Bay Ferries meets its targets.

So far, the company has fallen short on projected passenger counts.

During its inaugural season last year, the high-speed Cat sailed from June 15 through Oct. 1 and carried just short of 35,600 passengers, well below the 60,000 projected by the province.


Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald was not available for comment by deadline. But in a previous interview, he reportedly pegged his hopes for better passenger numbers in 2017 on a longer season.

Baillie doesn’t buy it.

“Nova Scotia taxpayers are covering their (Bay Ferries) losses,” he said. “Why wouldn’t they want a longer season? They can’t lose.”

The opposition leader alleges the province was in too much of a rush to do a deal with the city of Portland and failed to check out its other options, such as docking the ferry at other ports.

Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan has praised the ferry service, describing it as an important link and vital to bringing tourists to Nova Scotia.

“This long-term support for a solid ferry operator provides stability and predictability for Nova Scotia businesses and tourism operators from all across the province,” MacLellan said. The Yarmouth ferry is a vital link in Nova Scotia’s transportation system. It is as essential as the TransCanada highway.”

Tourism operators, certainly, agree with the need for a ferry.

“We will all need to take advantage of the business opportunity this brings us,” Graham Hudson, general manager of Cape Breton’s Keltic Lodge and Highland Links, said in 2016.

The Chronicle Herald is Nova Scotia’s largest newspaper, based in Halifax.

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