Public wants Liberals to release Yarmouth ferry details
It's taxpayers money and Nova Scotia taxpayers want to know how it's being spent on the Yarmouth ferry service.
In an exclusive interview with CTV News on Thursday night, Premier Stephen McNeil acknowledged it was his government's decision not to release details about the management fees being paid to Bay Ferries.
Nova Scotians on the street want the information and experts see no reason why they shouldn't get it.
With just a few months to go before the sailing season, questions continue to mount about the Yarmouth ferry service.
"It's our tax dollars and I truly believe that we should know,” said a woman in Halifax, who didn’t give her name. “It's been going on for quite a long time and questions have been asked, and we're not getting answers.”
The Liberal government said yesterday they are going ahead with repairs to a terminal in Bar Harbor, without any official agreement in place to have the vessel dock there -- although they don't know how much it could end up costing.
Another citizen called the deal "a rip off”and earlier this week, the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party filed paperwork to take the Liberal government to court over their decision to keep details of the ferry contract confidential.
Premier McNeil says they've already disclosed the entire amount being spent.
“What we're talking about is a portion which is a management fee, which is proprietary information,” McNeil said in an interview with CTV anchor Steve Murphy. “This is a company that not only bids on this particular ferry service but they bid on ferry services globally and that is the one component where they actually they believe they have an actual advantage that allows them to win contracts.”
One privacy lawyer says exemptions can be made to limit disclosure of sensitive information.
“If an exemption is going to be raised on the part of the government whether it has to deal with confidential trade information or sensitive commercial information, when those exemptions are raised they have to be backed up by evidence to say ‘OK, we can only go so far in terms of how much information is allowed to be disclosed,’” said privacy lawyer Matt Saunders.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the Nova Scotia government has been writing a blank cheque to Bay Ferries.
“The government absolutely should be disclosing how much money is on the line here,” said Paige MacPherson, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.“Every last dime when it comes to management fees or when it comes to the big costs like paying for terminal upgrades and potentially even staff salaries in another country.”
The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia says there is an enormous amount of public interest in the Yarmouth ferry service.
“This case is about more than just the information at issue here,” said Michael Karanicolas of the coalition. “It really exposes the need for a fundamental shift in policy towards transparency and for law reform in order to grant the information commissioner with the order-making power to put this information out in the public themselves.”
A representative from Bay Ferries says the company was not doing interviews on the Yarmouth ferry today but say an update will be made available next week.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Natasha Pace.