Yarmouth’s ship hasn’t come in yet, but this week’s formal deal between the province and companies behind a new ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine — hopefully launching next spring — is a welcome sign.
As first announced by the previous NDP government prior to the October election, the agreement commits the province to providing up to $21 million in forgivable loans over seven years, along with annual marketing efforts, to help get the cruise-type ferry up and running.
The new Liberal government wisely insisted on adding a clause allowing the province to examine the ferry service’s financial books — reasonable oversight with taxpayers’ money involved.
As we’ve argued in the past, the investment makes sense if the province expects to take in at least that much more in taxes due to an economic lift from reconnecting Maine with southwestern Nova Scotia via the sea. The previous government ended subsidies to the Cat in 2009, effectively ending the money-losing service.
More good news came with confirmation Ottawa will kick in about 80 per cent — Yarmouth’s three municipalities will contribute the rest — of the roughly $2.6-million cost of rejuvenating the port’s old ferry terminal. An independent expert panel struck by the NDP government in 2012 to study the viability of re-establishing the Yarmouth- to-New England ferry service identified repairing the old terminal as a priority.
We’re cautiously optimistic the companies involved in STM Quest’s Nova Star Cruises, Singapore-based ST Marine and Quest Navigation of Maine, can start regular May-to-November service in 2014. But it’s far from a sure thing. There are plenty of challenges ahead, including finishing work on the terminal, setting up berthing agreements and border services in both Portland, Me. and Yarmouth, and obtaining all the necessary licences and permits.
But just as importantly, if this new ferry is to succeed long-term, there’s also plenty of work to do to grow what that same expert panel called Nova Scotia’s “insufficiently developed” tourism potential.
As the new Nova Scotia Tourism Agency put it bluntly in its strategy released last summer, we have “aging product, outdated technology and an unco-ordinated approach to major events” as well as “lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities of government and the industry, widely dispersed spending and investment, and unreliable or unavailable transportation links to the province.”
Inadequate accommodations, food and beverage, transportation and service and entertainment choices for visitors will ensure the ferry’s failure, no matter how great the vessel. In other words, the ferry may be necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Its success, and indeed that of Nova Scotia’s tourism industry, depends on how well private-sector tourism operators do at creating experiences visitors treasure.