Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines returned from Washington last week bubbling over with optimism for a summer season — albeit much, much shorter — for the Yarmouth-Bar Harbor tourist ferry. Don’t hold your breath. But do hold on to your wallet.
So Lloyd “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Hines has returned from his airplane flight-of-fancy to Washington — the ferry portion of his trip having been unavoidably delayed/canceled/“soon” to be resumed — bubbling over with optimism.
Perhaps it was just the summer humidity.
During three, pre-July-4th-holiday days in the US capital — in the long foreshadow of Donald Trump’s military mighty-might Independence Day parade; the looming shadow of Robert Mueller’s congressional hearing testimony; the never-ending cable news talk-tails about who’s on first, who’s in Iowa among the still metastasizing 20-plus roster of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls; and not to mention (please don’t mention) all the continuing mentions of the unmentionable I-for-Impeachment rumbling about in the basements of the corridors of power there — our Lloyd decided to make his way to Washington to try to chat with undistracted American politicians about this ferry business of ours.
His goal: to jolly American power brokers into cajoling the powers that might possibly be into rushing approval of new customs area renovations at the Bar Harbor, ME, ferry terminal ($8.5 million worth, all paid for by you) so the CAT ferry (also paid for and subsidized by you, to the projected tune of $13.8 million this year) can belatedly begin sailing between Yarmouth, NS, and Bar Harbor, sometime this summer (or fall), carrying boatloads of American tourists and saving southwestern Nova Scotia’s tourist economy and the nation itself, one heavily subsidized boatload at a time.
Hines made his Capitol Hill rounds in the company of former US ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, now earning $10,000-a-month pocket change (your USD tax dollars at work) to accompany visiting Nova Scotia worthies to and from such appointments.
They met with mostly easy, far-from-the-centre-of-power political “gets:” out-of-favour Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and her almost-as-ignored independent senate colleague, Angus King, along with Rep. Jared Golden, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s chief of staff (but not, it should be said, Graham himself).
Wilkins and the members of our four-person Nova Scotia delegation also met — perhaps more significantly — with Chris Sullivan, the acting deputy assistant commissioner for international affairs at the US Customs and Border Protection Agency.
Or… perhaps not.
Acting… Deputy… Assistant…
Sullivan, who once worked for CBP in Houlton, ME, as a service/area port director (whatever that may be) isn’t even listed as a member of the Homeland Security Leadership Team. Oops.
Still, Hines, our transportation minister, returned optimistic. “We are certainly optimistic,” the ever-optimistic Hines told reporters after last week’s Nova Scotia cabinet meeting, “that we will have a partial season this year. The schedule that we are on in terms of the construction and the things they see as imperative make us hopeful that we will be able to have some activity this season.”
Maybe even before the end of July, he suggested.
“We didn’t nail down a definitive time,” Hines mumbled.
But he is — did he mention? — optimistic.
Somehow, that isn’t comforting.
Consider that Bay Ferries — which operates and manages (sic) the ferry service under a secret management arrangement with the province and does not appear to be penalized for many its failures to manage or operate — initially announced a 2019 summer schedule that was to begin on June 21, which was then delayed until at least July 7, or mid-summer and, more recently, to July 18, or… who knows.
According to a spokesman for the US Customs and Border Service, Bay Ferries was informed “going back to at least 2017,” that “generally, these type of projects take 12 to 18 months” to win approval from Customs and Border Services. Despite that, it wasn’t until February 2019 that Bay Ferries signed a lease to use the Bar Harbor terminal, which hadn’t been used for a decade and was in significant need to renovations even before calculating the cost and time required to meet Borders Services sign off.
Did Bay Ferries inform the province of that timeline before the province committed to eat the full costs of moving the US ferry’s landing port from Portland to Bar Harbor in time for this season?
If they did inform the province about that, what was Lloyd “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Hines’ response?
If Bay Ferries didn’t inform him until Canadian Press reported this fun fact on June 25, what did Hines say or do then? What about his boss, the premier of all he surveys, Stephen McNeil?
How much, if any, of this year’s $13.8-million subsidy will we save if the season never happens? (Can we hope?)
How much, if any, of the still undisclosed annual management fees, will Bay Ferries still get for mismanaging this season’s non-season.
So many questions. So little season left.
This column first appeared in the Halifax Examiner July 8, 2019.