Ferry-dependent communities to be impacted by lack of federal support

The Chi-Cheemaun ferry.

OTTAWA—The Canadian Ferry Association (CFA) is warning ferry-dependent communities that the lack of federal government support received by operators such as the Owen Sound Transportation Company—which operates the Chi-Cheemaun ferry service between South Baymouth and Tobermory—will impact economic and social recovery post-COVID-19.

While the sector has played a key role to transport first responders, essential travelers and goods to ferry-dependent communities during the pandemic, it has received no support from recent federal relief measures. 

The federally regulated sector was encouraged to continue its operations during the crisis even though it faced steep decreases in revenues, mounting losses and now added costs to adapt to the new reality.

“The Canadian Ferry Association is calling on the government to show more flexibility and support a crucial part of Canada’s transportation infrastructure,” said Serge Buy, CEO of CFA, in a release.

Organizations such as BC Ferries, Owen Sound Transportation Company and the Societe des traversiers du Quebec are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. While a small fully private part of the sector is eligible for funding, some are facing denials. One such example is the Ottawa River ferries that do not qualify due to their inability to use 2019 as a comparative year for revenues as a result of the floods.

Other measures, including the recently announced $19 billion in transfers to the province, may support some ferries that operate as part of municipal transit infrastructure, but the vast majority of the sector is, once again, ignored.

“This lack of support for the ferry sector is dividing communities in Canada into those that take urban transit in large municipalities and those that rely on other modes of transportation such as ferries,” said Mr. Buy.

CFA will continue discussions with the federal government to help ensure that the sector’s contribution to the country-wide efforts during the pandemic and the recovery are properly recognized and financially supported.

The sector estimates its losses at over $450 million. The impact on ferry-dependent communities could include reduction in services, fleet renewal delays, cancellation of shore-based infrastructure projects and delays in implementation of green energy products.

In 2019, ferries in Canada transported about 55 million passengers, 22 million vehicles and billions of dollars of goods in communities throughout the country, from urban centres to remote regions.