The question of whether the Grand Manan Village Council should ask the provincial government to remove the fares from the Grand Manan ferry service will be decided by residents during the May 14 municipal election.
Allan McDonald, past president of the Grand Manan Tourism Association, points out that back in August of 2010 a group of about 20 island business people discussed the removal of the ferry fares. "It was a hot item at the time, and we went around the table. Some thought the ferry should be free. Some thought the fares should stay. Some thought the fares should be kept but lowered. But when they were asked the question, 'Would a free ferry help their businesses?,' 100% said 'yes,' regardless of personal opinion."
Adds McDonald, "Personally, I really don't care. I can afford the fare, but if the ferry was free, that's $1.7 million that people will spend on other things."
He believes a free Grand Manan ferry would make it easier for groups of visitors to come to the island. "We had a group of 90 people that came every year for 50 years -- the Shad Valley organization, which was made up with the creme de la creme of students -- but they stopped coming because the ferry became too expensive."
McDonald points out that a sardine factory closed on Grand Manan because of "transportation costs," and a lobster business didn't move to the island because of "transportation costs."
Theresa MacFarland, vice president of the Grand Manan Tourism Association, reports that body met on Monday, April 16, and "reaffirmed" what had been said at the meeting a year and a half ago. "There were 15 or 16 people at Monday's meeting, and they were 100% in favor of removing the ferry fares."
A letter was being drafted to state the business owners' views in writing.
"It's going to be a very close vote," predicts Grand Manan Mayor Dennis Greene. "I think, when they first heard about removing the fares, a lot of people said, 'Hey! That's a good idea.' But they've changed their minds. A lot of the elderly ones don't want to be told that we have to do something."
"We had asked [the Province of New Brunswick] for a study to be done last year by an independent firm that would let us know the answers to questions like 'How much increase would there be in traffic?' or 'Would it increase tourism?' But the study wasn't done, and there are a lot of unknowns."
Greene says, "Some don't think the winter ferry schedule could handle an increase in traffic. And, with all the financial problems of the New Brunswick government, others are afraid of losing the fourth trip. That 7 p.m. run is very, very important for a fishing community like Grand Manan."