Ferry rate chal­lenge a cru­cial is­sue

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Ted Bartlett is pres­i­dent of Trans­port Ac­tion Atlantic in Monc­ton, N.B.

The alarm bells should be sound­ing all over the prov­ince about the lat­est bizarre turn in the long-run­ning de­bate over gulf ferry rates.

This time it’s about the chal­lenge launched in the Fed­eral Court of Canada by Oceanex, claim­ing that the rates charged by Ma­rine Atlantic for trac­tor-trail­ers are too low!

This is an is­sue of his­toric pro­por­tions, with huge im­pli­ca­tions for New­found­land and Labrador. Oceanex is, in ef­fect, ask­ing the Fed­eral Court of Canada to negate the spirit of the terms of union, which were meant to en­sure that the peo­ple of the then new prov­ince were placed on a level trans­porta­tion play­ing field.

Term 32 was phrased con­sis­tent with the re­al­i­ties that ex­isted when the deal was ne­go­ti­ated in 1948, but its in­tent clearly was to treat the Cabot Strait as an ex­ten­sion of the na­tional rail­way net­work - there was no Trans-Canada High­way back then. Freight mov­ing to New­found­land was to be rated as if it were an all-rail move­ment. If you ap­ply that phi­los­o­phy to to- day’s sit­u­a­tion, the cost of mov­ing a trailer of freight be­tween North Syd­ney and Port aux Basques should be equiv­a­lent to that of haul­ing it over 185 kilo­me­tres of high­way.

Peo­ple in the truck­ing in­dus­try should be able to say pre­cisely what that fig­ure would be, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s a lot less than Ma­rine Atlantic is cur­rently charg­ing. Trans­port Ac­tion Atlantic’s po­si­tion has been that ferry rates are al­ready too steep; the cost re­cov­ery level set by Trans­port Canada is ex­ces­sively high - ex­actly as Justin Trudeau main­tained dur­ing last fall’s fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign. The rates re­ally should be re­duced - cer­tainly not in­creased, as Oceanex is ad­vo­cat­ing.

New­found­lan­ders are al­ready pay­ing too much for their gro­ceries and other consumer goods (and pas­sen­ger and per­sonal ve­hi­cle trans­porta­tion as well) be­cause Ma­rine Atlantic’s cost re­cov­ery ra­tio is higher than we be­lieve it should be.

If Oceanex can be prof­itable by pro­vid­ing a ser­vice be­yond the scope of the con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed ferry ser­vice, well and good! But the terms of union are sacro­sanct, and must not take sec­ond place to in­ter­ests of pri­vate en­ter­prise.

Make no mis­take, this is­sue is cru­cial to the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of New­found­land and Labrador - and the pro­vin­cial govern­ment should meet this threat with all the strength it can muster. If Term 32 is al­lowed to be vi­o­lated, gen­er­a­tions to come will pay the price.

New­found­lan­ders are al­ready pay­ing too much for their gro­ceries and other consumer goods … be­cause Ma­rine Atlantic’s cost re­cov­ery ra­tio is higher than we be­lieve it should be.

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