Freeland says there’s no money in 2022 federal budget for year-round ferry

CAMPOBELLO – N.B. Southwest John Williamson has once again brought the plight of Campobello islanders to parliament, pressing for federal support to provide a year-round ferry to the island.

“My statement in parliament today is another step to press the federal government to support a year-round ferry landing for Campobello Island,” said Williamson in an email to the Courier.

“I have discovered Ottawa provides support for ferry service within B.C. to remote communities. This is a significant find,” he added.

“Campobello is the unique Canadian island in my riding without direct access to mainland New Brunswick,” said Williamson in parliament Friday. “Instead, islanders must drive one hour through the state of Maine, check-in at two border points, to access their country.

“A ferry is needed to end Campobello’s second-class status, so its residents have a domestic route to other parts of Canada, just like other Canadian citizens.

“I’ve researched the public accounts and discovered the federal government provides $30 million annually to fund ferry service to remote communities within British Columbia,” he said.

“For the past two years, Ottawa rightly labelled Campobello a remote community.

“It is past time the federal government’s ferry support program is extended to New Brunswick, so travel mobility rights on Campobello are recognized and supported by the Government of Canada.”

The designation as a remote community is a well-documented one, with island having been referred to as such in a March 2020 Order in Council which, in part, allowed for freer movement for islanders through the United States to re-enter Canada when the U.S./Canada border was closed to all non-essential travel via the land border.

Williamson has long been a proponent for a year-round ferry to Campobello, an issue exponentially highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, as island residents struggled to find ways to the New Brunswick mainland if they were without a passport or were not vaccinated against COVID-19, a prerequisite for entry to the U.S. and Canada.

In his efforts to see the ferry extended, Williamson also reached out to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, to ask funding be found for the 2022 budget to see the ferry dream come to fruition.

“These constituents live in New Brunswick but must travel through Maine to re-enter mainland Canada for essential reasons or services such as employment, purchasing groceries or fuel, attending medical appointments and complying with child-custody arrangements,” said Williamson in a letter to Freeland.

“Federal cross-border guidelines in recent months have changed and residents of Campobello are now asked to meet the same mandatory requirements as a ll travellers entering Canada. The residents of Campobello should not be asked to register their transitory movements between two points of Canada with the federal government. No other Canadian , unless compelled by the courts, is required to do so.”

But Freeland says there’s no money to be had for a ferry in the 2022 budget, released in April.

“There was no funding made available for this in Budget 2022,” said Freeland in a letter response to Williamson. She goes on to say the matter would fall under the jurisdiction of Omar Alghabra, minister of transportation.

“I think it would be good to bring this to his attention,” said Freeland in her letter. “Therefore, I have forwarded a copy of your correspondence to him.”

Williamson has previously tabled a petition in support of a year-round ferry, signed by some 700 Campobello and other area residents, but it did not meet with the support Williamson had hoped for.

“In his response to the petition, Hon. Marc Garneau, the former transportation minster, stated that the federal government had no legal obligation to fund such a ferry since Campobello was not classified as a remote community under Transport Canada’s National Marine Policy,” said Williamson in his letter to Freeland. “However, since the onset of COVID-19 the island of Campobello is classified as a remote community under multiple Orders-in-Council. As such, I believe that the National Marine Policy, which was issued in 1995, is no longer a barrier to extending federal funds.

“As well, Mr. Garneau also raised a point about the lack of an obligation by the federal government to support intra-provincial ferries as requested by Campobello petitioners. However, I have discovered that on an annual basis since 1977, the federal government provides a grant to the Government of British Columbia, which is now approximately $30 million a year to fund intra-provincial ferries. While Mr. Garneau is no longer in cabinet his reply on behalf of the federal govenm1ent was extremely disappointing and misrepresented federal obligations,” his letter continues.

“Deputy Prime Minister, there is a certain similarity with federal funding whereby the support received by one provincial government is open to others with similar needs. This ensures fairness in our country. In this respect, I request your assistance to rectify an inequality in the federal government’s obligation to my constituents on Campobello by providing federal support to the Government of New Brunswick for a Campobello-Deer Island year-round ferry service through Budget 2022.”

Williamson added he has “discussed the issue” with Alghabra, “who is studying it.”