Digby business community steps up lobby effort to prevent ferry redeployment

MV Fundy Rose sails between Digby, N.S. and Saint John. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
MV Fundy Rose sails between Digby, N.S. and Saint John. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

The focus of a lot of time and money at the Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa in recent years has been on making the southwest Nova Scotia business a year round attraction for tourists, business groups and other potential customers.

But with word that Transport Canada is considering redeploying MV Fundy Rose from its Digby-to-Saint John route for part of 2024, so it can sail between Souris, P.E.I. and Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Que., the Pines has joined a growing list of businesses expressing concern.

"This is a very, very significant potential impact on my business," Glenn Squires, managing partner for the Pines' ownership group, said in an interview Thursday.

"Southeastern New Brunswick — the Moncton-Fredericton-Saint John corridor — is an exceptionally important source of business for us. Obviously, the vast majority of that business comes over on the Rose."

The Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa is shown on Dec. 19, 2019.
The Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa is shown on Dec. 19, 2019.

The Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa is shown in this file photo. Officials with the resort are concerned about the potential redeployment of MV Fundy Rose. (CBC)

With the ferry that sails between P.E.I. and Îles-de-la-Madeleine scheduled for mandatory drydocking next spring, the Fundy Rose is one of the options Transport Canada is considering to ensure service continues along that route. But if that happens, it would mean a loss of service between Digby and Saint John for an indeterminate length of time.

Squires estimates redeployment could cost the Pines, located just down the road from the Digby ferry terminal, hundreds of thousands of dollars in the short term and create "seismic repercussions" in the long term as a result of confusion and a lack of consistency among customers.

"If you're always changing what you're doing, they lose confidence or they easily go to … other destinations," he said.

"We've got motor coach companies that are doing itineraries two and three years in advance."

Recovering from such changes can take years, said Squires. He said the ferry is "a very significant demand generator" for the business.

Dan White is CEO of the West Nova Chamber of Commerce.
Dan White is CEO of the West Nova Chamber of Commerce.

Dan White is CEO of the West Nova Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted by Dan White)

Dan White, CEO of the West Nova Chamber of Commerce, is hoping to avoid negative impacts for Digby and the southwestern part of the province's economy that could follow any type of service interruption.

White and his team have launched an online petition calling for the ferry to remain on its current route. The area already contends with a loss of the service each year when it does its normal maintenance and White is concerned that if Fundy Rose is then redeployed, it could end up being for much longer than planned.

"They keep saying it's temporary and I keep saying, 'define temporary.' When is it not temporary and it becomes long term?"

Along with the negative consequences it could create for the tourism industry, White notes there could be problems for the seafood industry and other sectors that ship their product via trucks using the ferry.

If truckers are forced to drive around to New England, it means the need to add a driver or take a mandatory break after a certain amount of driving, wihch would push up costs and eliminate same-day delivery guarantees.

Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont poses by the Digby Wharf in Nova Scotia.
Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont poses by the Digby Wharf in Nova Scotia.

Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont, who represents the riding of West Nova, poses by the Digby Wharf in this file photo. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont, whose West Nova riding includes Digby, speculated that Transport Canada could be looking at the Fundy Rose for the Îles-de-la-Madeleine route because it would be compatible with the docking system there.

The Magdalen Islands need a ferry, said d'Entremont, but so does Digby.

"Why isn't the department actually looking forward and having a replacement ready when the time comes," he said in an interview.

"I mean, come on, we know these things have to go off on refit every three or four years."

He said he's discussed the matter with Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez. The minister seems to be receptive to concerns, said d'Entremont, but so far Fundy Rose is still up for a potential move.

'We're not backing off'

In the absence of a decision and clear communication from Ottawa, d'Entremont said a part of the province with a long history of losing transportation links is left to speculate and worry about worst-case scenarios.

"A couple of weeks I think we all can survive. Anything more than that is irresponsible on the government's part."

White doesn't want to see the ferry moved for even a couple of weeks.

The chamber's petition had more than 1,500 signatures as of Thursday and White said lobby efforts would continue until they get the answer they're looking for from Transport Canada.

"We're not backing off until we get confirmation that our ferry is not going to be taken away from us and go somewhere else."

Nova Scotia's federal cabinet minister weighs in

Housing Minister Sean Fraser, Nova Scotia's representative at the federal cabinet table, told CBC on Friday that he's also raised the importance of preserving transportation links with Rodriguez.

Fraser stressed that talks continue about how to ensure people and business are able to travel between P.E.I. and the Magdalen Islands while its usual ferry is in dry dock, and that no final decisions have been made.

"The goal is to make sure that when people come to rely on transportation routes that have been in place, for some instances many years, that we're able to offer reliable service to support the travelling public but also businesses that rely on those transportation links," he said following a funding announcement in Port Hawkesbury.

Some people in the Digby area are concerned Fundy Rose is being considered for redeployment because West Nova is represented by a Conservative MP, while the Magdalen Islands is part of the riding of federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier, but Fraser said that is not the case. Saint John is represented by Liberal MP Wayne Long.

Decisions about important transportation links are taken on the basis of "what the economic output of those decisions will lead to, not based on purely constituency concerns of individuals Members of Parliament," he said.