Fox receptive to tolls action
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.