GANDER, NL – Given the economic difficulties faced in the province, the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce is speaking out about a federal court case that could potentially see additional pressure on businesses and consumers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Oceanex is challenging the federal government on taxpayer subsidies to Marine Atlantic for shipping.
As previously reported by Saltwire Network, Oceanex is asking the court to order the minister of Transport to reconsider his decision approving the 2016-17 freight rates for Marine Atlantic.
Marine Atlantic is asking the court to toss the whole matter, saying the court doesn’t have jurisdiction.
The terms of union between Newfoundland and Canada stipulate the federal government must operate a ferry service between the island and Cape Breton; they don’t state that Ottawa must subsidize the service.
Canada’s Transportation Act states, “competition and market forces, both within and among the various modes of transportation, are the prime agents in providing viable and effective transportation services.”
If Oceanex’s is successful, it’s tough times ahead for the province, says Hazel Bishop, president and CEO of the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce.
She estimates a decrease could double or even triple shipping costs.
She stated Marine Atlantic transports most produce and meat, building supplies, and dangerous goods to the island portion of the province. Bishop said these goods are shipped through Marine Atlantic, which provides two commercial trips daily, while Oceanex runs three trips weekly to deliver goods to St. John’s.
“The majority of our freight, from Gander and to the west, comes through Marine Atlantic,” Bishop said. “Any decrease in the subsidy would cause an increase in the commercial rate that would have to be passed on to the consumer.
“In an economy where we are all struggling, trying to keep things going, another increase is a major concern not just for every resident but every business as well.”
The chamber, which represents 320 businesses, encourages all residents and business owners to express their concerns through social media, contacting area MHAs and MPs.