N.S. Liberals dodge Yarmouth ferry questions at public accounts committee
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2019 10:30PM AST
Nova Scotia taxpayers are on the hook for renovations and border security at the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine, but the government doesn't want to talk about it.
The Yarmouth ferry will use the terminal this season and on Wednesday, opposition parties tried to get the transportation minister to appear before the legislature’s public accounts committee – but politics prevented that from happening.
“The main motion was that the public accounts committee approve and immediately schedule a meeting on the topic of funding for the Nova Scotia to Maine ferry,” said committee chair Eddie Orrell.
It was a timely request, and probably not unexpected a day after Nova Scotians officially learned their taxpayer-subsidized ferry service to Maine has a new port-of-call in Bar Harbor.
Bay Ferries says it’s signed a five-year lease with the town, but the province will have to fix the dock, build a loading ramp and shoulder the cost of other upgrades, including some border control.
Opposition members introduced a motion to summon the transportation minister to the meeting to talk about the ferry, but after a quick huddle, the government side amended the idea, referring it instead to another committee: resources and economic development.
“We meet soon, and I will ask the clerk to put it on the agenda for a future meeting,” said Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, the Liberal MLA for Lunenburg.
But Halifax Needham NDP MLA Lisa Roberts said that’s not good enough.
“Having that topic come to that committee is not a substitute for it being at the public accounts committee,” Roberts said.
But the role of public accounts is shrinking, and Wednesday marked the last weekly meeting for the committee, which will now sit down monthly and only deal with matters flagged by the Auditor General.
“We've cut back on how often we're going to meet, we're not going to bring in any topics that make the Liberals uncomfortable, and we're going to bump them off to committees that may or may not ever bring issues up,” said Progressive Conservative MLA Barb Adams.
In the end, the Liberal majority prevailed -- no surprise in a democracy -- but a bitter pill even for the chair, who ended the meeting with a timely personal comment.
“I gotta say that I'm very disappointed in the committee,” said Orrell. “I just had to get that on the record. The meeting is adjourned.”
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Bruce Frisko.