Oceanex chal­lenge threat­ens Terms of Union

Trans­port Ac­tion Atlantic pres­i­dent calls on prov­ince to lead de­fence of fed­eral sub­si­dies to Ma­rine Atlantic

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - BY BRYAN TAIT TC ME­DIA The Gulf News

The head of a trans­porta­tion ad­vo­cacy group wants New­found­land and Labrador’s govern­ment to join the fray in a fight over sub­si­dies to Ma­rine Atlantic.

Ted Bartlett, pres­i­dent of Trans­port Ac­tion Atlantic, said a chal­lenge to the sub­si­dies by Oceanex could af­fect ev­ery­one in the prov­ince.

“Re­ally what’s hap­pen­ing here is the Terms of Union are be­ing threat­ened,” Bartlett said.

He said he couldn’t un­der­stand why the peo­ple of New­found­land and Labrador have not been more vo­cal about that threat.

“It has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for gen­er­a­tions to come as far as the cost of liv­ing is con­cerned,” he said.

Bartlett said the pro­vin­cial govern­ment needs to get in­volved in the court chal­lenge and speak for the peo­ple it rep­re­sents.

He said while Trans­port Canada is the de­fen­dant in Oceanex’s court chal­lenge, for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses the res­i­dents of New­found­land and Labrador are de­fen­dants as well.

“They’re the ones who are go­ing to be the big loser if the plain­tiff is suc­cess­ful in this case,” he said. “The de­fence has got to be led by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment.”

Bartlett said the prov­ince should seek in­ter­vener sta­tus in the case and let its voice be heard.

“They owe that to the peo­ple who elected them,” he said.

In a let­ter to the ed­i­tor pub­lished in the April 11 edi­tion of The Gulf News, Bartlett stated Oceanex was, in ef­fect, “ask­ing the Fed­eral Court of Canada to negate the spirit of the terms of union.”

He said Term 32, which deals with a ferry ser­vice be­tween North Syd­ney and Port aux Basques, was drafted with the in­tent of equal­iz­ing the cost of liv­ing in New­found­land with the other Atlantic prov­inces.

“I guess what Oceanex is say­ing is that Term 32 is no longer valid,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he has no prob­lem with Oceanex mak­ing a profit by pro­vid­ing a ser­vice not of­fered by Ma­rine Atlantic.

He said the cost of mov­ing a trailer from North Syd­ney to Port aux Basques via Ma­rine Atlantic should not be greater than the cost of haul­ing a trailer over 185 kilo­me­tres of high­way, roughly the dis­tance the ferry trav­els.

He said Ma­rine Atlantic is likely charg­ing more than that for trail­ers com­ing across the strait.

“For any­one to say that Ma­rine Atlantic is not charg­ing enough, that they should be charg­ing more, this is un­con­scionable,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett worked for Ma­rine Atlantic for 23 years in a pub­lic re­la­tions role, and said rates were al­ways a sen­si­tive sub­ject.

He said Ma­rine Atlantic’s man­dated cost-re­cov­ery per­cent­age is also a prob­lem. He said the per­cent­age of costs Ma­rine Atlantic is re­quired to re­cover has gone from less than half 20 years ago to about 65 per cent.

He said Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ap­peared to agree the cost-re­cov­ery de­mands were too high and had in­di­cated as much in a re­sponse to then-premier Paul Davis’s let­ter to fed­eral party lead­ers prior to last fall’s elec­tion.

“With the Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment fix­ated on cut­ting ex­pen­di­tures at all costs and de­mand­ing an un­rea­son­able per­cent­age of cost re­cov­ery from Ma­rine Atlantic, the Crown cor­po­ra­tion that runs the ferry was forced to in­crease its fares by a to­tal of 11 per cent over the past three years,” Trudeau’s re­ply stated.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Par­sons said the pro­vin­cial govern­ment is mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion and will de­ter­mine a course of ac­tion in the fu­ture.

“I’m glad to see peo­ple speak­ing out,” Par­sons said. “The more peo­ple we have speak­ing out, the bet­ter.”

Par­sons said the peo­ple of the south­west coast have of­ten been the strong­est voice re­gard­ing con­cerns about Ma­rine Atlantic.

“That’s not sur­pris­ing,” he said. “I don’t think many peo­ple fully grasp the mag­ni­tude of Ma­rine Atlantic’s im­por­tance to our prov­ince.”

TC ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

The pres­i­dent of Trans­port Ac­tion Atlantic says a court chal­lenge to Ma­rine Atlantic’s freight rates threat­ens the Terms of Union.

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