It's an understatement to describe as disappointing the provincial government’s rejection on Tuesday of the two bids to launch a new Yarmouth ferry.
The news was hardly surprising, however.
The NDP government called for bids in early December for a ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine, just three months after an expert panel had argued that much preparatory work would be needed for such a venture to succeed.
Observers have speculated the government hoped to have a new ferry service announced before an expected provincial election, or perhaps to mute, as soon as possible, the criticism pounding the NDP since they pulled the plug on subsidies to the Cat in late 2009, leaving Yarmouth without ferry service ever since.
Whatever the reason, the call for tenders in early December now seems rushed. No established ferry companies bid, likely due to the short, eight-week window to put a business plan together during their busy season in Europe. The only two bids received, neither of which met the minimum criteria, came from firms which had not operated cruise ferries before.
The announcement that the province plans to open a new, modified procurement process this spring to find a ferry operator is certainly welcome. It should also end talk of a Yarmouth ferry service restarting in 2013, held out as a possibility in December. The goal, as suggested by the expert panel last September, is realistically 2014.
Last fall’s expert panel report also stressed that the success of a new ferry service depended, in large part, on the need for both the southwest region’s and entire province’s approach to tourism to change and improve.
On Tuesday, the province also announced plans to appoint a team of tourism, community and business leaders to work on improving the tourism attractiveness of southwestern Nova Scotia. Why, one wonders, was that not done last fall?
Although the government will no doubt deny it, the controversy last fall over the refusal of many tourism department employees to move to Windsor, where the new Nova Scotia Tourism Agency is based, was likely a distraction.