HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government says the entire $21 million it had committed over seven years for the new Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry has been spent by the operator only two months into its first season.
Economic Development Minister Michel Samson says the Liberal government is committed to keeping the money-losing service operating.
Samson says the funding level was set by the previous N-D-P government. “We had concerns from day one. We’ve tried to make it a success under parameters established by the previous government. It’s now become clear … that this deal announced by the previous government really did not have any hopes of succeeding.”
He would not answer when asked if the government is considering subsidizing Nova Star Cruises.
However, the minister repeatedly mentioned that he knows of no other similar ferry services that operate without a subsidy of some kind.
Samson says ridership is low so far this year, but adds Nova Star can turn things around. “We’re very hopeful that we’re going to have a successful August, September and into October. But that will depend on what challenges the ferry will face.”
On May 30, Samson said $19 million had been handed to the ferry operator _ only two weeks after the Nova Star carried its first paying passengers between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.
Premier Stephen McNeil is concerned that company has burned through 21-million taxpayer dollars.
“I think the bigger question is, was the number that was thrown around by the previous government realistic? … And we’re working our way through all of that,” said McNeil.
McNeil says he hopes the state of Maine will step up with its own contribution.
“This is a benefit to them as well, and we want to make sure they’re a part of making sure that service continues.”
But that’s not likely, according to the governor’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett. “The state of Maine doesn’t necessarily have millions of dollars to invest directly into this. We have certainly been able to help in other ways.”
Bennett says the state continues to work on securing a five-million dollar line-of-credit for the struggling ferry service.
The final $2 million was handed over today to cover the service’s operating costs.