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Letter from Danny Cavanagh to transportation minister: Don’t use our tax money to pay US customs officers in Maine

Honourable Lloyd Hines

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal
2nd Floor, Johnston Building, 1672 Granville Street
P.O. Box 186, Halifax, NS, B3J 2N2

Via email: TIRMIN@novascotia.ca

Dear Minister:

We are hearing that Nova Scotians may end up footing the bill for American border security agents if Bar Harbor becomes the new destination for the Yarmouth to Maine ferry this spring. We are appalled by media reports that our tax dollars would be used to pay public servants in another country, among other concerns. This is not about a position of either for or against the Ferry.

Minister Hines, Nova Scotia taxpayers must not be on the hook to pay for US Customs officers in Bar Harbor Maine. It is appalling that the US Customs and Border Protection services expect Bay Ferries to pay for upwards of ten additional customs agents to staff the terminal.  It’s even more appalling that our Nova Scotia government would even think about footing this cost. It’s a service the American government must provide like they do at any other border. Border security is a pretty hot topic in the USA at the moment and if the US border service is successful in having another countries province pay up, what’s next?

Minister Hines, I am sure you recall that thousands of our public sector workers are feeling disillusioned. They had to go to arbitration and or take legal action to the N.S. court of appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada with legal actions because your government imposed your legislative force on thousands of our public sector workers in our province up to and including a forced collective agreement on our teachers.  You were quoted in media as saying you feel the value for the Nova Scotia taxpayer is there for this ferry service. Do you not see the value in paying and treating our own public sector workers with the respect they deserve for the value they provide to our citizens?

Many people in our province believe we are in crisis on many fronts, workers are feeling hard done by, health care is in crisis, education is in crisis, and our tax-payers are continually told to tighten their belts — frankly its appalling that anyone in government would support our paying for American border security. It seems that a private corporation from another country continues to demand more and more from tax payers in Nova Scotia and continually get their way. Fact is, it is hard for anyone to determine much about the cost our citizens have paid for the transportation links between N.S. and the USA.

Even the Nova Scotia’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia, Catherine Tully on December 17, 2018, issued a report that recommended the government disclose all information about the 2016 management fee Nova Scotians paid to Bay Ferries. In withholding this data, the Department argued that the disclosure of the information would harm both the economic interests of the Department and the competitive position of Bay Ferries Limited.  Competitive with who, and what’s wrong with competition all of a sudden?

Mr. Minister, with all due respect, it was your government that stated it would be the most open and transparent government that we would ever witness. The citizens of the province have a high expectation of transparency because that’s what was promised by your government. To date, the government has failed to fulfil the Commissioner’s recommendation, and we would encourage that the department disclose all applicable information on the cost for this transportation link between our province and the USA that we have paid for.

We would also ask that you challenge both Bay Ferries and the USA Customs Services if we continue to do business with them to not put workers in danger by working in a building or buildings that may contain asbestos and PCBs. Our country has taken a strong stance on asbestos and worker safety, and we would encourage you and others in your government insist that asbestos and PCBs be removed from the building(s) where employees are working, full stop.

Again, this is not about a position of being either for or against the Ferry and with full disclosure of details it will be up to citizens to decide that fate. This is about how it seems our negotiators bend to every whim of this private company. Such public contracts cannot see our tax payers on the hook for more and more.  We would urge you to reconsider your support for the paying for United States border services and let the American company, and its national government battle that out. We would further ask that the contract be opened to competition for such service providers and ensure that our Nova Scotia workers be employed, that Nova Scotia products and service are on board the ferry and that all workers are protected from things like asbestos and PCBs in their workplaces. I am open to step in and get a professional negotiator for you if you think that would help?

Yours sincerely,

Danny Cavanagh


Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

Copy:    NDP Leader Gary Burrill, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston


Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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