Newfoundland and Labrador blames Ottawa for ferry price hikes to mainland Canada

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's energy minister says a move by Marine Atlantic to hike ferry ticket costs to mainland Canada "falls squarely on the shoulders of the federal government."

Andrew Parsons made the remarks Thursday after the federal Crown corporation announced its fuel surcharge would increase by four per cent as of June 1. He said he has long asked that Ottawa revisit its funding structure with Marine Atlantic so travel between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland is more affordable.

The province's terms of union with Canada stipulate that the federal government will provide freight and passenger service between Newfoundland and the Maritimes, he added.

“This is not just our highway, this is our constitutional highway. This was part of us joining the country of Canada,” Parsons told reporters. “When you look at tourism, when you look at the cost of living, when you look at inflation … this hits home harder now than perhaps it ever has.”

Marine Atlantic runs ferries between North Sydney, N.S., and two ports in Newfoundland, and its ships provide the main transport routes for most of the island's groceries. Anyone in the rest of Canada wanting to drive to Newfoundland through the Maritimes must take a Marine Atlantic ferry.

The company is changing the way it calculates its fuel surcharge on ticket prices, increasing it to 17 per cent of travel fares from 13 per cent, spokesman Darrell Mercer said in an interview. The hike represents an $8 increase for a family of four with a vehicle, and a $17 increase for a drop-trailer transport truck, he said.

The company has been grappling with soaring oil and gas prices, he added. “It just got to a point where we could no longer absorb those additional costs that we're seeing from the fuel purchases."

The extra four per cent may not seem like much, but it will have an impact, Parsons said. "Every good coming into this province, primarily perishables coming in through Marine Atlantic, we're going to feel that. We're gonna feel that on every truck that's coming in; this is going to be passed on to consumers."

The federal government provides funding to Marine Atlantic and requires the company to recover a certain amount of its costs from consumers, Parsons said. He said he spoke with federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra last winter about adjusting that amount.

"We're going to have to look at our options here," Parsons said, adding that they may include the courts.

Transport Canada did not immediately return a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press