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Yarmouth mayor committed to ferry service, not to Nova Star

WATCH ABOVE: Pam Mood is adding her voice to the conversation over the future of the Nova Star and the ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine. Julia Wong reports.

HALIFAX – The mayor of Yarmouth is wading into the discussion over the future of the Nova Star and the Yarmouth to Portland, Maine ferry service.

Earlier this week, Nova Star released passengers numbers that Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan called “disappointing”. There is also conflicting information about the company’s winter work in Europe.

RELATED: Too much money going to Nova Star ferry in Yarmouth: Stephen McNeil

“We’re certainly not disappointed in the least because when you start with no visitors and you go up to hundreds, that’s a positive all the way around,” said Mayor Pam Mood.

“This is much better than nothing.”

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The province injected $28.5 million dollars into the ferry service last year. This year, it has given Nova Star $8.1 million out of the $13 million promised. Mood was on the defensive when asked whether that was a good use of taxpayer money.

“I think everyone agrees it’s a lot of money to put into one entity. It’s a big number certainly but we can’t forget the effects of what happened when the ferry was gone. People were closing down their businesses and in huge numbers, people were leaving us,” she said.

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She said the ferry service is important for the province as a whole and dismissed the possibility of scrapping it if it isn’t economically viable.

READ MORE: Coming weeks critical for future of Yarmouth ferry operator: Minister

“It’s about the entire economics of the whole situation. This service is desperately important. It’s an international highway between a state and a province, but [it’s] two countries so it’s a big deal.”

The province will announce within two weeks whether it will renew Nova Star’s contract. Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said the province is in talks with three other possible operators.

RELATED: Shape up of we’ll find another operator, province tells Nova Star ferry

Mood admits she is not committed to Nova Star operating the route and would be open to a new operator.

“I love the Nova Star but the service is what we need,” she said. “We just have to maintain that service.”

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“The business decision will be made by the province. Certainly you have to look at the numbers. Everybody wants the numbers to be as high as possible and the ferry service has to be viable so again, the province makes those decisions and I trust the province to do that.”

Mood said she supports whatever decision the province makes on which operator will run the route. She hopes it will be a balance between taxpayer dollars spent and the economic need for the service.

“All I can say definitively is that the decision needs to be made with of course taxpayers dollars in mind. That’s imperative that we have to look at what taxpayers are spending but we also have to put it on the table clearly that Nova Scotia needs this service,” she said.

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“I think what will happen ultimately is we’re going to measure benefit against what’s being paid out and understanding these types of services require assistance [but] it doesn’t mean we give away everything.”

 

Province demands financial information

Nova Scotia’s transportation minister says the province needs to see audited financial statements and a sound plan from Nova Star Cruises within two weeks before it decides whether to renew its agreement with the ferry operator.

Geoff MacLellan said today the province has to closely examine bookings and revenue from the company during the peak season before making a decision on whether to continue with the operator in 2016.

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MacLellan says his department has already had meetings with three separate groups about possibly taking over the service, but he won’t take formal proposals until he’s met with Nova Star.

He says he wants to know what the plan is to stabilize and improve on the number of passengers taking the ferry between Yarmouth and Maine.

MacLellan says he has told the company that the province wouldn’t provide a subsidy so that it could operate the ferry in Europe during the winter season because that would be a poor arrangement for the province’s taxpayers.

The minister says he needs to see a solid, long-term plan that minimizes the province’s subsidy.

-with files from CP