Protest in Port aux Basques demands more funding for Marine Atlantic ferry service

Brodie Thomas
Published on June 18, 2014

Treena Osmond was one of more than 100 people who came out in Port aux Basques Wednesday evening to protest the cancellation of Marine Atlantic’s summer schedule. The Crown corporation offered increased sailings during the summer months in previous years.

Brodie Thomas/Gulf News

Around 150 union workers and residents of Port aux Basques gathered on the Trans-Canada Highway Wednesday evening for a demonstration against cuts to federal services.

Around 150 union workers and residents of Port aux Basques gathered on the Trans-Canada Highway Wednesday evening for a demonstration against cuts to federal services.

Marine Atlantic ferry workers, coast guard employees and postal workers were handing out leaflets to drivers getting on and off the ferry.

Although a recent reduction to the ferry service’s summer schedule was the catalyst for the protest, other federal employees came together in solidarity with the Marine Atlantic employees and the town residents.  

Members of the Port aux Basques town council and Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons were on hand to show their support.

Parsons told the crowd that, after the provincial government turned down his offer to send an all-party delegation to Ottawa to speak about the ferry service, he would be going by himself in search of answers.

“I don’t care if I need to wait in the hall for a meeting all summer,” said Parsons. “They need to hear from us and they need to hear from us right now.”

He also said Marine Atlantic management had an important role to play in making sure the service stays viable.

Parsons said reduced federal funding and increased fares lead to a vicious cycle. As fares increase, fewer people can afford to cross, and demand drops.

“It’s not fair that we have to pay more to use our highway than anyone else in the rest of Canada,” said Parsons.

The local MHA has been hearing that calls to the reservation department are going unanswered because there aren’t enough workers to answer them.

Parsons threw out some numbers, noting Marine Atlantic’s annual rent for office space in Port aux Basques is $69,000, while in St. John’s it is $313,000. He said the average wage of the 292 workers in Port aux Basques is $46,000 while the 24 management employees in St. John’s make, on average, $94,000.

The union representing on-shore workers wanted to spread the message that ferry cuts affect many industries in the entire province, including retail and tourism.

USW member Wilson Matthews said all Newfoundlanders need to take note of what’s happening with the service. He also promised more demonstrations to come.

Deputy mayor Todd Strickland told protestors that council had previously been told the ferry service would be status quo this summer.

“Then, what we were told in April pretty much took a 180-degree turn,” said Strickland.

In late May, Marine Atlantic announced it would not have increased runs during the summer months as it normally does. It also said the commercial traffic ferry, the MV Leif Ericson, would be on standby unless needed, rather than crossing every day.

Strickland also said it was unacceptable to see cuts in Port aux Basques while none were made in Argentia.

He said Argentia is not mentioned in the terms of Confederation, and therefore Port aux Basques should be the lone port of entry and exit for connecting with the rest of Canada.

“Why is there a trip to Argentia?” he asked. “We don’t need it.”

Port aux Basques Mayor Lloyd Mushrow said a meeting with Marine Atlantic management and council didn’t provide many answers. The mayor said it seems as though the management feel forced to reduce the service because the funding just isn’t there.

The Gulf News