Photo: Portland Press

It’s heartening to learn the Province has not been asked by Bay Ferries to pay its legal fees to appeal a judge’s decision which allows the Progressive Conservative leader to seek a court order to find out how much taxpayer’s money is going to Bay Ferries for managing the Yarmouth ferry service.

Which isn’t to say the Province won’t be asked, but Nova Scotia Transportation Infrastructure and Renewal spokesperson Marla MacInnis confirmed that so far, Bay Ferries is on its own when it comes to challenging the ruling by Justice Peter Rosinski earlier this month.

For those following this Kafkaesque tale, the judge refused to allow a motion by Bay Ferries’ lawyer Scott Campbell seeking to throw out the case based on a technicality over whose name was on the motion.

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston is asking for a court order to support a ruling by the N.S. Privacy Commissioner that said taxpayers should be allowed to know how much Bay Ferries is being paid to manage the seasonal Yarmouth to Maine service. The amount is contained somewhere in the $13.9 million operating subsidy for last year and estimated $13 million subsidy for this year.

“We launched this appeal to fight for answers for Nova Scotians. Answers, according to the Privacy Commissioner, we have the right to know,” said Houston after Bay Ferries launched another motion. “The Liberal government and the company have begun a war of attrition. They know we are a small office and they appear to be using considerable joint resources in the hopes that they will wear us down, kill our appeal and keep information secret.”

Figures contained in Section 22.1 of the 2018 Estimates & Supplementary Information for the Province show the government spent $23.9 million on the Yarmouth ferry last year:

That $23.9 million amount includes the undisclosed management fee, and $8.5 million for renovations to the Bar Harbor terminal which are underway now. The service is moving from Portland to Bar Harbor, Maine with a target date of late June for the start of this year’s season.

In 2018 about 1% of visitors to Nova Scotia arrived on the Yarmouth ferry according to the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia. If you divide $23 million (rounded down) by 20,000 visitors, the subsidy works out to $1,150 per traveller. It would have been cheaper to pay for a flight from Boston — not an option because the Province has a ten year agreement with Bay Ferries. (Perhaps the provincial government needs better legal expertise when it comes to negotiating long-term agreements with private corporations. Hopefully the new P3 healthcare facilities in Cape Breton will fare better than ferries and pulp mills).

Marla MacInnis says no information is available on what it will cost the Nova Scotian taxpayer to cover the salaries of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents staffing the Bar Harbor terminal four months of the year.

“Bay Ferries remains in discussions with US Customs and Border Patrol,” said MacInnis in an email yesterday. “USCBP has asked that the details of those discussions be confidential. Any arrangement would be a fee for service”.

Lloyd Hines, the N.S. Transportation Minister, has previously shrugged off reporters’ questions about why Canadians are even paying for American customs agents working on U.S. soil as “the cost of doing business”. So far, Nova Scotians are still in the dark about what that cost will be or the number of agents required. Information available online through says the average U.S. Customs & Border Patrol agent earns between $40,154 and $95,437. The website says that as of November the average annual salary was $84,180. Provision for these salaries has been included in the 2019 budget, we’re told. You just can’t see it.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Someone needs to find a way for the NSGOV to be held accountable for this complete boondoggle. The “old car” justification (we’ve spent so much on this program (car) to date we can’t stop now because we’ve got so much money “invested” in it) doesn’t fly. Maybe I’m “old school” but I’m all about evaluating a business case for large expenditures.

  2. Another example of the incompetence of the Nova Scotia government. And remember folks, that’s $84,180.00 US, and I’m sure we will have to pay for the full years salary for each customs agent, not just for four months. So if provisions are already included in the 2019 budget, they surely must already know how much the agents are going to cost NS.

    This shit makes my blood boil.