Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his annual Chicken Little motion that he brings before the House once again.
Canada is a maritime nation with vast coastlines. Ferry services have allowed for greater economic development and the building of stronger and more integrated communities.
Ferry operators employ Canadian businesses to help ensure Canadians receive the safest and most efficient ferry service possible. According to the Canadian Ferry Operators Association, ferry services directly employ over 8,400 people with well-paying jobs and indirectly help generate over 22,600 jobs throughout Canada.
Moreover, as important components of regional transportation networks, these ferries connect families, bring tourists to the far corners of our country and ensure businesses in remote communities have opportunities to connect to larger markets every day.
Our government recognizes the benefits that ferry services provide and supports ferries from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador.
It is for these reasons that I am pleased to rise and have the opportunity to speak on private member's Motion No. 591 on ferry services between Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island and Caribou, Nova Scotia. The motion before us today proposes that we recognize the importance of the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service, that all future contracts with the ferry operator are at least five years in length and that we maintain or exceed current service levels.
I can assure this chamber and Canadians that our government does support the Wood Islands to Caribou ferry service. Our support is long-standing and consistent.
This ferry service was first established in 1941 when the federal government began providing support for the service through Northumberland Ferries Limited, which has remained the ferry operator for all of these years. While the Wood Islands-Caribou ferry is only an eight-month service, it helps to meet the diverse transportation needs of Prince Edward Island's economy. During the 2014-15 operating year, the ferry moved over 353,000 people and over 15,000 commercial vehicles across the Northumberland Strait. It is an important component of the island's economy. As such, our government has provided $100 million in funding to support the continuation of service since 2006.
Another way our government supports the ferry service is by leasing the two terminals and chartering the two ferries used on the Wood Islands to Caribou route, the MV Holiday Island and MV Confederation, to the current operator for a nominal amount. However, the MV Holiday Island, built in 1971, and the MV Confederation, built in 1981, are aging. These ferries have required significant investments over the past four years to maintain safe and reliable operations.
Our government has invested over $10 million in the past four years to undertake a number of repairs on the terminals and ferries, including a main engine replacement for the MV Holiday Island. Our government has made these investments because it recognizes that important economic and social infrastructure has developed and been enhanced by the presence of the ferry service.
Finally, our government further supports the island through its contribution towards the Confederation Bridge. To support this alternative transportation route, this government provided $61.7 million in funding toward the bridge in 2014.
Our government's commitment to ensuring safe and secure transportation linkages in the Atlantic region is further highlighted by the approximately $150 million our government has provided to support the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec to Souris, Prince Edward Island and the Saint John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia ferry services.
I would like to note that a new vessel was purchased in October 2014 at a cost of $44.6 million to replace the MV Princess of Acadia on the Saint John to Digby route. This vessel will ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of another important eastern ferry service, while creating jobs and economic opportunities in the region. The competition to name the vessel closed in February, and so I know everyone is looking forward to learning the winning name and a date for the ferry's entry into service.
Also, on les Îles de la Madeleine, our government heard the need for a year-round link to the islands. In 2009, our government extended the 10-month service to year-round service.
As announced in July 2014, our government is working toward developing a long-term sustainable approach to supporting eastern Canada's ferry services. This initiative, along with our government's announcement of a $58-million investment in the three eastern Canada ferry services until March 31, 2016, has created an opportunity to establish a sustainable, long-term approach to supporting these ferry services into the future. Our government is using this time to engage the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, and ferry operators to further this initiative that is in the interest of all Canadians.
I understand the member for Cardigan's desire to ensure that the region continues to be served by a reliable and efficient ferry service. However, our government is conducting this work because ferry services are facing challenges. Pressure on ferry sustainability is following a worldwide trend. Domestic and international ferry operators are responding to these pressures through new and innovative approaches. These new approaches could be implemented in a way that would allow our ferry services to be more efficient while also improving the passenger experience. There is a need to understand and learn from these approaches to ensure that the eastern Canada ferry services continue to meet the high standards Canadians expect.
To conclude, our government is committed to supporting the Wood Islands-Caribou ferry service through a long-term, predictable, and sustainable approach.
Our current objective, however, is to ensure that our government has the time to complete its examination of options to determine the right level of service under the right parameters to support the long-term prosperity and economic development of the region.
Motion No. 591 would impede our government's ability to do that. It is for this reason that our government cannot support Motion No. 591.