Fox re­cep­tive to tolls ac­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

P.E.I. Se­na­tor Percy Downe is find­ing a warmer re­cep­tion from Op­po­si­tion Leader Jamie Fox than from the provin­cial Lib­eral gov­ern­ment for his cam­paign to get equal treat­ment for Is­lan­ders re­gard­ing tolls on the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge. Sen. Downe has long ques­tioned high tolls be­ing paid to cross the fixed link and his cam­paign in­ten­si­fied late last year with news the new Cham­plain Bridge in Mon­treal would be toll-free. The Que­bec bridge is be­ing paid for with pub­lic dol­lars and the no-tolls de­ci­sion is a re­ver­sal in fed­eral pol­icy.

Since Ot­tawa changed the rules, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has an obli­ga­tion to re-ex­am­ine the sit­u­a­tion on the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge. In ad­di­tion to mas­sive sub­si­dies — es­ti­mated now at $42 mil­lion a year in­dexed to in­fla­tion — the bridge keeps all tolls col­lected.

The 12.9-kilo­me­tre bridge, com­pleted in 1997 for an es­ti­mated $1 bil­lion, charges a min­i­mum $46 for a pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle. The new four-kilo­me­tre Cham­plain Bridge, be­ing built for $5 bil­lion, was go­ing to charge $4 to $5 per ve­hi­cle un­til it be­came po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent to drop the tolls.

Is­lan­ders are now help­ing to pay for that Que­bec bridge and bear a large fi­nan­cial bur­den for the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge.

Is­lan­ders prob­a­bly wouldn’t mind pay­ing a rea­son­able toll for the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge but few think that $46 is rea­son­able to drive to New Brunswick. Nor is $70 a rea­son­able fee for a 75minute ferry ride to Nova Sco­tia.

Sen. Downe and many oth­ers have made com­pelling ar­gu­ments that Is­lan­ders face dis­crim­i­na­tion be­cause of high tolls.

Last week, in a com­men­tary pub­lished in The Guardian, Sen. Downe re­jected sug­ges­tions the con­tract can’t be changed be­tween the bridge com­pany and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Euro­pean bond­hold­ers might pre­fer to bail out now be­cause of the low Cana­dian dol­lar which lim­its re­turn on in­vest­ment. He sug­gested that Is­lan­ders could save bridge re­ceipts and sub­mit them with tax re­turns to the Canada Rev­enue Agency for re­bates.

Sen. Downe re­it­er­ated the first step is for the P.E.I. Leg­is­la­ture to pass a res­o­lu­tion re­quest­ing that Is­lan­ders re­ceive treat­ment equal to the cit­i­zens of Que­bec. Then Ot­tawa will have some­thing to con­sider. It seems like a rea­son­able sug­ges­tion.

It’s an op­tion that Mr. Fox ea­gerly en­dorses, while the premier and his gov­ern­ment re­main cool to the idea and sug­gest it isn’t a pri­or­ity at this time.

For the bridge tolls is­sue to re­main in play, politi­cians like Mr. Fox have to keep the topic in the fore­front.

Mr. Fox is con­sid­er­ing bring­ing for­ward a res­o­lu­tion in the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture call­ing for Ot­tawa to make the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge free for Is­lan­ders.

He has met with Sen. Downe but wants to pro­ceed cau­tiously to en­sure any changes to the agree­ment for the bridge do not neg­a­tively im­pact the Wood Is­lands ferry ser­vice.

Mr. Fox is es­pe­cially con­cerned about the bur­den the bridge tolls have on low-in­come Is­lan­ders forced to travel out-of-prov­ince for med­i­cal pro­ce­dures. Th­ese should be con­cerns for the gov­ern­ment as well.

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