Fed­eral min­is­ter must broaden his per­spec­tive

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Lawrence Ma­cAulay must re­mem­ber he is no longer just the Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Cardi­gan. The fed­eral min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture is now P.E.I.’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive around the cab­i­net ta­ble in Ottawa. He has to broaden his ar­gu­ments and his per­spec­tives to en­com­pass of all Prince Ed­ward Is­land. He is our pro­vin­cial min­is­ter.

The time is past when Mr. Ma­cAulay can sim­ply voice his un­flinch­ing sup­port for the ferry ser­vice be­tween Wood Is­lands and Cari­bou at the ex­pense of ev­ery­thing else.

His re­cent com­ments that elim­i­nat­ing tolls on the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge would threaten the Northum­ber­land Fer­ries Ltd. ser­vice are a case in point.

The de­bate over bridge tolls has in­ten­si­fied in re­cent months since Sen. Percy Downe raised the in­trigu­ing is­sue of fair­ness.

He cites the de­ci­sion by Ottawa not to charge tolls to cross the new Cham­plain Bridge in Mon­treal — a rad­i­cal de­par­ture in fed­eral pol­icy con­cern­ing trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture projects. He says what’s fair for Mon­treal and Que­bec should also be fair for Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Ottawa changed the rules to ben­e­fit Mon­treal and it should at least check if a bet­ter deal for Is­lan­ders is pos­si­ble by rene­go­ti­at­ing the con­tract with the oper­a­tors of the bridge.

There is noth­ing wrong with Mr. Ma­cAulay’s fer­vent sup­port for the ferry ser­vice. All Is­lan­ders — es­pe­cially those in the east­ern and cen­tral ar­eas of the prov­ince — strongly sup­port a con­tin­u­a­tion of the es­sen­tial link to Nova Sco­tia.

The jobs, con­ve­nience for Is­lan­ders and the shorter con­nec­tion for truck­ers and ship­pers are vi­tally im­por­tant.

But Mr. Ma­cAulay also must ap­pre­ci­ate that elim­i­nat­ing or re­duc­ing tolls on the bridge would have an ex­tremely pos­i­tive eco­nomic im­pact on the en­tire prov­ince.

He must look at the big pic­ture. Ac­tion on bridge tolls would im­pact costs for im­ports and ex­ports and at­tract more tourists. It would jump­start our eco­nomic en­gine.

Ferry ser­vice and bridge tolls should not be mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. If the bridge tolls should drop or end, there is no rea­son why the ferry ser­vice should be fa­tally threat­ened.

As a trans­porta­tion link and tourist at­trac­tion, it would still be very pop­u­lar. Many east­ern P.E.I. trav­ellers head­ing to Hal­i­fax or Cape Bre­ton would pre­fer the ferry to a three-hour drive around to Truro.

The gas costs alone would come close to the ferry tolls.

Sen. Downe al­ready dealt with the ferry is­sue is an opin­ion piece pub­lished re­cently in The Guardian. He pro­vided re­but­tal to the pre­dictable “sky is fall­ing re­ac­tion” from Mr. Ma­cAulay and oth­ers.

The sen­a­tor ar­gues that Ottawa would still sup­port the sea­sonal ferry ser­vice be­cause it is im­por­tant, not only to P.E.I. but Nova Sco­tia as well.

With his luke­warm views on re­duc­ing or elim­i­nat­ing bridge tolls, Mr. Ma­cAulay is jeop­ar­diz­ing what­ever chance the prov­ince has for Ottawa to in­ter­vene or at least re-ex­am­ine the high costs of cross­ing the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge.

His com­ments that, “If the bridge was sud­denly free, you wouldn’t see a car at the Wood Is­lands or Cari­bou ferry,” are wildly ex­ag­ger­ated.

His ret­i­cence matches that of Premier Wade MacLauch­lan who thinks there are more im­por­tant eco­nomic is­sues to dis­cuss with Ottawa than bridge tolls.

Sen. Downe says it will take a res­o­lu­tion from the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture to at least get Ottawa’s at­ten­tion. Op­po­si­tion mem­bers are ready to raise the is­sue in the spring sit­ting.

Warmer sup­port from our fed­eral cab­i­net min­ster would be a ma­jor boost as well.

Our fed­eral min­is­ter has de­fined his ca­reer to date by sup­port­ing the ferry ser­vice. He can fur­ther en­hance his legacy as a states­man by ex­pand­ing his hori­zons in de­fence of the en­tire prov­ince.

As min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture, he can’t take sides to sup­port one sec­tor of the in­dus­try over an­other, or sup­port one prov­ince over an­other.

Mr. Ma­cAulay must sup­port and de­fend all Cana­dian farm­ers and oth­ers in Cana­dian agri­cul­ture.

Our fed­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter must ap­ply that per­spec­tive to is­sues within his own prov­ince as well.

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