CAT ferry protest fails to sway N.S. govt as province says no to more funding

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's economic development minister rejected appeals Thursday to reconsider a decision to eliminate funding for a high-speed ferry to the United States, arguing the venture didn't make good business sense.
After meeting with several protesters who staged a noisy demonstration inside and outside a government office building, Percy Paris said he would not bring the issue back to the cabinet table.
The group of about 250 tourism operators, business owners and ferry employees want the NDP government to reverse its decision to end subsidies for the CAT ferry that runs between Yarmouth and Maine.
But Paris said it didn't make economic sense to keep subsidizing the service since revenue from American tourists has been dropping off.
"It's not a good business venture - it's as simple as that," he told reporters after his meeting with the mayor of Yarmouth.
"It's not going to be considering reversing the decision around the CAT."
Bay Ferries Ltd. announced in early December that it was dropping the service because it could not afford to operate without government help.
Premier Darrell Dexter has said his government remains opposed to providing $6 million in provincial cash to keep the boat running and the government - which faces a $525-million deficit this year - can't provide an ongoing subsidy.
Businesses and labour groups say the loss of the ferry will eliminate about 600 jobs and cost millions of dollars annually in lost revenues.
Yarmouth Mayor Phil Mooney said 76,000 people used the service last year, bringing in roughly $33 million to the province.
"We want him to re-look at his decision," he said at the demonstration.
"We're at the second highest unemployment rate in Nova Scotia and you put another 600 jobs on that ... it's going to be devastating to us."
Waving placards and calling for Dexter by his first name, workers in hard hats along with union officials and restaurant employees crammed into two floors of the building.
It houses Dexter's office and the cabinet meeting rooms, but no one from government came out during the 20 minutes they were inside.
The group wanted a commitment from the NDP government that efforts will be made to secure a ferry link with New England in 2011 and beyond.
The premier, who is out of the country, has said he's open to providing short-term cash to salvage the ferry service, but he wants to see a study on transport needs before committing to anything.
He's awaiting the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency study on transport needs and will consider temporary assistance if it recommends that.
Cancelling the service could cost provincial taxpayers millions of dollars if the vessel is not sold before September.
Bay Ferries' agreement with the former Tory government included $3 million in transition payments to help the company meet its debts and maintain the high-speed vessel if the service was shut down.
Six monthly payouts of $500,000 are due to begin April 1.
Ron LeBlanc, 55, and his wife have worked on the CAT for years and fear they will have to move if they lose their jobs in the small seaside community.
"No ship, what are we going to do?" said LeBlanc, the ship's chief steward. "It's felt everywhere. It's a tragedy."

Organizations: CAT, Bay Ferries Ltd., Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Tory

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Yarmouth, United States Maine New England

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