HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's premier says he's open to providing short-term cash to salvage a ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine, but he wants to see a study on transport needs before committing to anything.
Darrell Dexter made the comments after hearing proposals on Wednesday for continued, year-round ferry service between Yarmouth and Bar Harbour from Yarmouth Mayor Phil Mooney.
Community leaders have been predicting the loss of hundreds of tourism jobs since Bay Ferries Ltd. announced last Friday it was scuttling the service unless it received government subsidies.
Dexter said his government remains opposed to providing $6 million in provincial cash to keep the boat running and he also says the government - which faces a $525-million deficit this year - can't provide an ongoing subsidy.
However, after hearing Mooney's pleas he told reporters that if recommendations from an Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency study on transport needs call for temporary assistance, he'll consider it.
"Of course there are circumstances where you would look at an investment that would be of a short-term nature in order to get something up and running," he said.
"Of course we're going to keep open the option to look at those kinds of recommendations."
Dexter said he hopes the province can convince the federal government to assist if a one-time cash injection is required to relaunch a ferry service.
Mooney said it wasn't the outcome he had sought from the meeting, but he's hopeful the study will provide added backing to his community's claims that the ferry is vital for shipping seafood to the United States.
"The best scenario I thought was I'd get an early Christmas present, because I always wanted a boat for a Christmas present, but I didn't get one. So hopefully after the first of the year, after this transportation study comes, we'll have another look," he said.
The study was originally scheduled for late spring, but the mayor and premier said after the meeting they expect to see it sooner.
"They're going to fast-track it. We have time to collect more data ... to present to the premier and government," said the mayor.
The mayor has argued that the closure of the ferry service would send a devastating ripple through the town's economy, possibly closing the main hotel and convention centre and eliminating hundreds of tourism jobs.
The opposition parties said they fear the NDP government is going to react too slowly.
"My question is ... how long is he (Dexter) going to take to implement the study? We need this service and it's critical to have this service in 2010," said Richard Hurlburt, the Tory member of the legislature for Yarmouth.
Hurlburt also said he thinks that the lack of NDP members of the legislature in southwestern Nova Scotia is playing a role in the government's reluctance to assist the ferry.
Wayne Gaudet, the Liberal member for Clare, said Dexter must convince Maine and the federal government to assist.
"We need to bring the different players to the table. Western Nova Scotia needs a ferry service to the United States," he said.
"Surely to God they can get their act together after the holidays and bring some possible solutions to the table."