Tuesday, January 27, 2015


When the 42-metre long MV Grace Sparkes began plying the waters between Burnside and St. Brendan’s in May 2011, the mayor stated that “it feels like we won the lottery.”

The state-of-the-art passenger ferry has the capacity to carry 16 automobiles, or 11 and a transport truck, has room for 80 passengers, and has a lounge area and elevator.

The Sparkes and her sister ship, the MV Hazel McIsaac,  were built by Kiewit Offshore Services  in Marystown at a cost of at least $55 million. 

The pair - and eight others - were announced as part of the Tory government’s ambitious ferry replacement policy.  The Progressive Conservatives made building new ferries in Newfoundland and Labrador a plank of the 2003 election platform. 12 years later the two vessels are the only ones to have been built.

The government and Kiewit disagreed about the costs. The government claimed the shipyard was taking them for a ride. Negotiations to build a third ferry fell through and so did the government's manufactured right here policy.  

In 2013,  the province announced the award of two new ferry contracts to Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands. The vessels are being built at a facility in Romania.

The Sparkes hit a rock outside of Burnside last Thursday and is out of service while repairs are carried out. Residents were offered helicopter transportation until the privately owned leased MV Norcon Galatea arrives as a replacement.

The Galatea used to be known as the MV Hamilton Sound which went into service in 1968. Due to frequent breakdowns, expensive repairs and unreliability, the vessel was sold for $214,000 in 2011. Read more about the Galatea debacle in a previous post.

St. Brendan's had a population of 147 in the Canada 2011 Census.  Romanticism aside, how do you justify spending $27 million on a new ferry to service 147 people? That does not include the millions in fuel, crewing, insurances and other operational costs. These are just the costs for the ferry - what about maintaining roads, schools and other services?

The Davis government, facing a $1 Billion deficit this year says nothing is off the table. Is it time for a long overdue chat about the economic sustainability of continuing to operate ferries and providing services to communities like St. Brendan’s.

The unsustainable economic reality of these communities makes for some gut wrenching decisions, fueled by demographic truths that can no longer be delayed or avoided.

It is time to discuss the giant elephant in the room. How much longer can we support unsustainable communities?

In many ways the mayor was right about winning the lottery, however the winning can not go on forever. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no justification for ferry service to most NL communities. Pay to relocate the handful of inhabitants is a better option. The ferry building program is an example of government largesse at its worst.