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In the Atlantic provinces, ferries are the extension of highways. These ships have been part of the culture and economic development of the region for over a century. But they are insufficient in number to maintain reliable service.

Analysis | Ferries purchased or borrowed left and right for the Atlantic

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Fire on board the Holiday Island ferry between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, on July 22, 2022.

  • François Pierre Dufault (View profile)François Pierre Dufault

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Atlantic interprovincial ferry operators are facing a major problem. Their ships, which are owned by the federal government, are getting older and more likely to end up on the sidelines.

When this happens, or even if it's routine maintenance, service suffers. There isn't always a plan B at hand.

Last month, Transport Canada seriously considered the possibility of redeploying the NM Fundy Rose from its usual route between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to the link between Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands.

The Madelinot ferry, the NM Madeleine II, must enter dry dock for several weeks next spring. It is a mandatory exercise every three or four years to ensure the good condition of the ship. During this time, the service must be maintained.

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The problem is that there does not seem to be a relief ferry in the Atlantic capable of ensuring this connection.

The federal Minister of Transport, Pablo Rodriguez, finally made the decision not to undress Pierre to dress Paul. The Bay of Fundy keeps its ferry. We must now find another solution for the Quebec archipelago.

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The Madeleine II ferry, which connects the Island -of Prince Edward and the Magdalen Islands, can transport 1,500 passengers and more than 300 vehicles, according to the carrier CTMA Traversier.

In southwest Nova Scotia, the first option considered by Ottawa was simply not acceptable. There was no question of doing without NM Fundy Rose.

It's completely crazy that we take our ferry to put it there, reacted with bewilderment the federal Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont, who represents the Acadian region. Why don't we have a ferry that we could use as a replacement?

Owners of transportation companies in southwest Nova Scotia were also concerned. Without the NM Fundy Rose, truckers would have had to take a detour of several hours to reach the New England states. And in business language, time is money.

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When it comes to ferries, however, the Atlantic is used to temporary solutions.

When the old ferry between Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands reached the end of its useful life, Ottawa acquired a Spanish ferry to keep the service operating by the Maritime and Air Transport Cooperative (CTMA) pending the construction of a new ship.

The NM Villa de Teror thus became the NM Madeleine II.

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Government of Canada purchases ferry NM Fanafjord, which can carry passengers and vehicles, to serve Nova Scotia and Island of Prince Edward in 2024 pending the construction of another ferry.

Ottawa has also just purchased another used European ferry, the NM Fanafjord, in order to ensure, with the NM Confédération, a two-ship service between the New -Scotland and Prince Edward Island during peak tourist season.

This is, again, a band-aid over a bandage.

Since the fire that ended the long career of NM Holiday Island, last year, the operator Northumberland Ferries Limited already borrowed a relief vessel from the Société des traversiers du Québec, the NM Saaremaa 1, to complete its summer duo.

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The ferries Saaremaa I (front) and Confederation (rear) on August 6, 2022 in Caribou, Nouvelle -Scotland.

The NM Holiday Islandwas not, either, in his first health problems when a fire in the engine room gave him the final blow. Already in 2016, the old ferry had spent almost the entire summer in dry dock due to serious corrosion problems.

From then on, elected officials and merchants from Prince Edward Island have continued to loudly demand a commitment from the federal government to reliable ferry service.

Ottawa first tried to allay fears by proposing a new business model that would have required operators to take ownership of newer ships. The plan, which seemed to come from nowhere, was finally abandoned without fanfare.

It was only in 2019 that the federal government entrusted to the Davie shipyard, in Quebec, the construction of two new interprovincial ferries for the east of the country: one for Northumberland Ferries Limited, the other for CTMA.

However, these new ferries will not set sail until 2028 at the earliest. The NM Fanafjord and NM Madeleine II will therefore have to hold out, without major damage, for at least the next five years.

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Transport Canada plans to use the Fundy Rose ferry which sails between Digby, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick to serve the Magdalen Islands for a few weeks in 2024.

Nova Scotia federal minister Sean Fraser has been saying this for months. The aim, he says, is to offer a reliable service to support travelers but also the businesses that depend on these connections. His colleague Lawrence MacAulay, elected since 1988 in Prince Edward Island, has been making a similar speech for even longer.

But for 30 years, the federal government gives the impression of juggling the reliability of interprovincial ferries in the Atlantic. He waited for ships, like the NM Holiday Island, are about to give up the ghost to order new ones.

Then he had to fall back on ferries purchased or borrowed left and right to maintain even a basic service.

During all this time, let's remember that companies, like the Davie shipyard, have often knocked on Ottawa's door to ask for more contracts.< /p>

With the drydocking of the NM Madeleine II, the shortcomings of the Atlantic ferry fleet have rarely been so obvious.

In Quebec, it was the recurring problems of NM F.-A.-Gauthier which led to the purchase of the NM Saaremaa 1 as a relief ferry. Nothing yet seems to have convinced the federal government to do the same.

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