N.L. government considering legal action against Ottawa as Marine Atlantic hikes ferry rate

·3 min read
Industry Minister Andrew Parsons, left, and Tourism Minister Steve Crocker say they were disappointed to learn of an increase to the fuel surcharge from Marine Atlantic.  (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
Industry Minister Andrew Parsons, left, and Tourism Minister Steve Crocker say they were disappointed to learn of an increase to the fuel surcharge from Marine Atlantic. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

Tourism Minister Steve Crocker says Newfoundland and Labrador is considering legal action as Marine Atlantic announced it will increase its fuel surcharge — reflected in the price of a ticket — to combat the rising cost of fuel.

The company announced Thursday the surcharge will rise from 13 per cent to 17 per cent beginning June 1.

Marine Atlantic operates ferry services out of Port aux Basques and Argentia with a direct route to North Sydney, N.S. In a news release the company said it wanted to be transparent about the change and the fee will be updated twice per year on June 1 and Dec. 1.

"The new formula will be directly tied to the average fuel price paid by Marine Atlantic," the news release reads.

"To provide pricing stability for customers, the fuel surcharge will be applied at the time of booking, not the time of travel."

Crocker told reporters at the House of Assembly on Thursday the timing of the change "could not have been worse." The province recognized National Tourism Week on Wednesday.

"Increases … are going to effect not only the tourism industry, but all industry in the province," he said. "It's going to affect every single good that comes into the province."

Industry Minister Andrew Parsons said the issue doesn't fall squarely on Marine Atlantic, it also falls on the federal government.

As a Crown corporation, Marine Atlantic must operate within the finances provided by the federal government. That comes with the requirement for 65 per cent of costs to be recovered.

Parsons said N.L. has written letters to Ottawa outlining its concerns over the cost recovery model for years.

Marine Atlantic/Twitter
Marine Atlantic/Twitter

He said the province is weighing its options following the fee increase, which includes legal action.

Both Parsons and Crocker cited a move made by Ottawa in December to freeze toll rates on Confederation Bridge in Prince Edward Island — one of the only ways to reach the island by car — and hoped they would have done the same for ferry routes to and from Newfoundland.

"This is our constitutional highway. This was a part of us joining the country of Canada. This was guaranteed, and right now we're facing more challenges than ever," Parsons said, adding the province is still trying to recover its tourism industry after it came to a screeching halt amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Anything right now that makes a visitor think twice about coming to Newfoundland and Labrador is not a good thing."

Progressive Conservative Leader David Brazil called the move "disappointing and alarming," saying it will further impact the rising cost of living in the province. He believes government should have been more proactive in making sure an increase didn't happen.

"This is going to be detrimental to the people of this province," he said. "Yeah, they can say they disagree with it and don't like it and all that. What have they been doing for the last six or seven months? Just look at what P.E.I. did."

In a news release issued Thursday, Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador chair Deborah Burden said the organization was disappointed by the change, adding the increase comes at a challenging time as tourist travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

"By decreasing the affordability of ferry access to Newfoundland and Labrador, Marine Atlantic is deterring travelers from visiting our province and our communities. We should be tearing down these barriers to access, not constructing new ones," Bourden said.

Bourden is calling on the federal government to decrease the cost recovery mandate for Marine Atlantic.

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