Prov­ince urged to dis­close fees for Cat ferry

Tri-County Vanguard - - Extras - FRAN­CIS CAMP­BELL SALTWIRE NET­WORK

The prov­ince’s in­for­ma­tion and pri­vacy com­mis­sioner said last week the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment should dis­close the amount of man­age­ment fees it paid to Bay Fer­ries Ltd., to op­er­ate the high-speed ferry ser­vice be­tween Yar­mouth and Port­land, Maine.

Cather­ine Tully said in a re­port re­leased Dec. 17 that ev­i­dence does not sup­port the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment’s claim that dis­clos­ing the in­for­ma­tion would harm both the eco­nomic in­ter­ests of the depart­ment and com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion of Bay Fer­ries, the pri­vate com­pany that runs the ser­vice.

“The ev­i­dence of­fered falls well short of the le­gal stan­dard,” Tully said in her re­port. “In­stead, the ev­i­dence of­fered con­sisted of con­clu­sion­ary state­ments of gen­eral as­ser­tions of risk. The com­mis­sioner rec­om­mends full dis­clo­sure of the ferry ser­vice fund­ing agree­ment.”

The trans­porta­tion depart­ment has 30 days to make de­ci­sion on the rec­om­men­da­tion, Marla MacInnis, a spokesper­son for the depart­ment, said.

The prov­ince an­nounced the com­ple­tion of an agree­ment with the ferry op­er­a­tor in March 2016, with­hold­ing from the pub­lic agree­ment in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to man­age­ment fees that in­cluded the in­cen­tive pay­ment and op­er­at­ing sub­sidy pay­ments for the first two years of op­er­a­tion.

In its pub­lished pub­lic ac­counts, the depart­ment re­vealed that it paid Bay Fer­ries $13,100,000 for the fis­cal year end­ing March 31 2016, $10,248,421 in 2017 and $13,964,393 in 2018. But in re­sponse to three ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion re­quests, the depart­ment ad­vised that it was with­hold­ing de­tails about man­age­ment fees un­der the harm to eco­nomic in­ter­est ex­emp­tion. It ar­gued that to­tal op­er­a­tional costs could be cal­cu­lated if the man­age­ment fee were to be re­leased but the com­mis­sioner coun­tered that such a cal­cu­la­tion would be im­pos­si­ble be­cause of miss­ing in­for­ma­tion on to­tal rev­enue, ticket rev­enue de­tails and ad­di­tional pay­ments.

“The ev­i­dence es­tab­lishes that the only in­for­ma­tion that would be dis­closed if the base man­age­ment fees were re­leased to the ap­pli­cants is the base man­age­ment fee,” Tully con­cluded.

Tully also con­cluded that the depart­ment failed to make its case that the man­age­ment fee in­for­ma­tion was sup­plied in con­fi­dence.

“There is a jus­ti­fi­ably high demo­cratic ex­pec­ta­tion of trans­parency around the ex­pen­di­ture of pub­lic money,” Tully said.

That is the trans­parency that Stephen McNeil promised when he first ran for the premier’s job five years ago.

“Tax­payer dol­lars pay the man­age­ment fee and tax­pay­ers de­serve to know how their money is be­ing spent,” Op­po­si­tion Leader Tim Hous­ton said in a news re­lease.

Hous­ton said the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus sub­mit­ted a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest about the man­age­ment fees more than two years ago and it ex­pects the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment to com­ply with the com­mis­sioner’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

Hous­ton said that de­spite Tully’s com­pre­hen­sive re­port, the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy com­mis­sioner does not have the author­ity to en­force her or­ders and rec­om­men­da­tions.

“The re­al­ity is, the McNeil Lib­er­als can ig­nore this re­port and suf­fer no con­se­quences,” Hous­ton said. “They are mak­ing a mock­ery of the prov­ince’s FOIPOP sys­tem.”

The PC leader said the premier can be­gin to make good on his com­mit­ment “to make Nova Sco­tia the most open and trans­par­ent prov­ince in the coun­try,” by im­me­di­ately re­leas­ing the Bay Fer­ries man­age­ment fees.

Both Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Lloyd Hines and Premier Stephen McNeil said last week the fees wouldn’t be re­leased as it could be com­mer­cial harm­fully to ferry op­er­a­tor if the to­tal cost to op­er­ate the ser­vice was made pub­lic.

The Cat ferry car­ried just shy of 52,000 pas­sen­gers dur­ing its 2018 season – its best season since it re­turned to the in­ter­na­tional ferry route three years ago. For the com­ing season Bay Fer­ries is eye­ing Bar Har­bor as its U.S. port.

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