Auditor general blames government incompetence for costly Quebec ferry saga

Italian-built ferry F.A. Gauthier is docked for repairs at Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que., Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The ferry has had major troubles since it was purchased to replace a ferry between Matane and Baie-Comeau. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s auditor general is blaming incompetence within the province’s ferry service corporation for the ill-fated acquisition of a vessel that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Guylaine Leclerc said Thursday she was surprised Quebec’s ferry service didn’t have enough competent people to monitor the boat’s purchase or to ensure it was constructed properly.

Quebec bought the MV F.A. Gauthier for $170 million and put it into service in 2015, but three years later it had to pull the boat out for repairs, and the whole project ended up costing almost $236 million.

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Leclerc says the province’s ferry service corporation failed in its duty at every step, from the selection process to the management of the project.

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As soon as the boat was delivered to Quebec from Italy, where it was built, construction defects were noticed, including moisture in the machine room and cracked window panes.

The F.A. Gauthier, which links the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and the Gaspe peninsula, is one of three ferries to have recently caused major headaches for the Quebec government.

One of those boats, the MV Apollo, which temporarily replaced the F.A. Gauthier, was bought for $2 million but hit a wharf twice and was pulled after one month of service.

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The boat acquired to replace the Apollo, the MV Saaremaa, cost $43 million, and last week it was damaged after it crashed into the wharf for a second time.

Transport Minister François Bonnardel blamed the previous Liberal government for what he called a “total fiasco.”