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Fuel prices threaten key Canadian lifeline: ferries

Sky-high fuel prices have seen a 30-percent rise in fuel surcharges for the Newfoundland ferry since July 2007.

Rich Clabaugh–STAFF

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It's mid-afternoon at the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal and long rows of commercial trucks are waiting to drive aboard the MV Caribou, their trailers packed with all the things the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador needs from the rest of North America: groceries, automobile parts, medical supplies, plywood.

But getting anything or anybody on or off the island of Newfoundland – where 95 percent of the province's half million residents live – has become alarmingly expensive. Sky-high fuel prices have triggered one fuel surcharge after another – a cumulative 27.7 percent since July 2007 – on the ferries that serve as the province's lifeline to the rest of the world.

Provincial authorities are angry, with Newfoundland Transport Minister Diane Whalen calling the surcharges "outrageous."

"It's getting harder and harder for many manufacturers to justify sending their products to Newfoundland just because of ferry costs," says Peter Nelson, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association in Dieppe, New Brunswick. "If things keep going this way we'll soon see the $8 head of lettuce in Newfoundland."

In this part of the world, ferries have long been regarded as essential infrastructure, extensions of the railroads and, later, highways, that connect Atlantic Canadians to one another and the wider world. Many communities in Newfoundland – and most in Labrador – are so remote that they are not connected to the provincial road network and people rely on local ferries to get in or out.

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