Opposition cries foul as N.S. ponders paying for U.S. border agents
The CAT, a high-speed passenger ferry, departs Yarmouth, N.S. heading to Portland, Maine on its first scheduled trip on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia is considering footing the bill for U.S. border security agents in Maine serving the privately run ferry to Yarmouth, N.S.
Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said Thursday that nothing has yet been decided in talks with U.S. officials, but it could be part of the cost of doing business as the ferry moves to a new entry point.
"We are working with them at the present time," said Hines. "They've asked to keep negotiations confidential at this point, but we don't see that as unreasonable."
The ferry is set to move to Bar Harbor from Portland, Maine, after Bay Ferries, the heavily subsidized private operator, struck a deal with the town last fall.
Although Hines wasn't direct when asked, he made it clear that the government wasn't opposed to paying for public servants in another country.
"We feel that the value for the Nova Scotia taxpayer is there for this (ferry) service," he said.
Hines also said the province hasn't made a final decision yet on paying for more than $3 million in upgrades to Bar Harbor's ferry terminal, but he said it's reasonable to expect it would incur at least "some of the cost."
"We've already done that when we were at Portland," said Hines.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said paying for border security in another country is inappropriate and doesn't strike him as a "normal" cost of doing business.
"The issue is we don't know what the cost of doing business is here. We don't know the full list of costs and maybe if the minister was transparent and put the full cost out, maybe we would have some perspective that we don't have today."
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said while he believes the ferry is an essential piece of Nova Scotia's infrastructure, the province shouldn't be "running to the Americans with an open cheque book."
Burrill added that it didn't make sense to pay for U.S. border agents.
"Doesn't sound to me like I'd have it at the top of my wisdom list," he said.
Bay Ferries said it carried 50,185 passengers between Yarmouth and Portland during the 2018 season - a 21 per cent increase over the 2017 season. The province has provided $32 million in subsidies since the ferry service resumed in 2015.
As things stand, Hines said Bay Ferries is waiting for approval of its lease agreement with Bar Harbor from Maine's governor.
He said until that approval is given, there's no word on what operating costs will be for the upcoming season.
As part of the deal with Bar Harbor, Bay Ferries requires a commitment on the construction of a new $8 million U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility.
The ferry operator has said a number of factors are behind its proposed move, including fuel prices and the shorter trip from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor.