News In Brief:
April 7, 2015 – Over the last several years, Marine Atlantic, the Federal Crown Corporation that operates the constitutionally obligated ferry service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia (NS) and Port aux Basques, Newfoundland & Labrador (NL) and the seasonal service between North Sydney, NS and Argentia, NL has significantly increased its marketing effort by buying large blocks of media ads along with ensuring it held a significant online advertisement presence. The most recent target of Marine Atlantic’s media campaigns has been the promotion of the summer service to and from Argentia by billing the voyage as “The Shuteye”, a contrast between the often used travellers’ phrase the “Redeye” which describes uncomfortable, sleepless overnight airline flights.
Marine Atlantic started discounting fares on the Argentia run as part of its promotional campaign in 2013. Truckers were given a special 10% discount for choosing to bypass Port aux Basques in favour of making landfall at the Argentia terminal. This past year saw Marine Atlantic offering a 30% discount for all early passenger reservations made on the Argentia run.
For many, including MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte Gerry Byrne, this practice raises concerns.
“Reducing fares on Marine Atlantic is generally a very good thing”, Byrne said. “Prices are already far too high and rate reductions are welcomed. The issue is not with reducing rates, it’s with selectively reducing them exclusively on one run over another. The seasonal service to Argentia which is not constitutionally obligated has seen some reduction in fares while the constitutionally obligated Port aux Basques service has seen rate increase.”
“If there are rate reductions to be offered, offer them to the users of either service and let them decide which route to take.”
Byrne has an unlikely ally in that argument: Marine Atlantic.
In 2005, the issue of discount fares was dealt with at length in Marine Atlantic’s 2005-2009 Corporate Plan. This plan was approved by the corporation, its board of directors and then was approved by the Federal Cabinet before being tabled in parliament.
In that document, the corporation offers a relatively detailed analysis as to why special discount rates and promotions on Marine Atlantic services – beyond the special fares available to seniors, youths, members of the Canadian Armed Forces and school groups that are available at any time of year and on both services – are considered “inappropriate”.
On page 37- 38, it says:
“10.1 Rate Increase
As the major surface link between the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the mainland of Canada, Marine Atlantic’s role is to accommodate the surface traffic demand for passengers, passenger-vehicles and commercial vehicles. The service is effectively the only highway link to the island province.
Marine Atlantic’s ferry service fare structure provides uniform fares for all categories of passenger and vehicular traffic throughout the year. Within this structure, fare discounting is provided for “youth” and “senior” passenger categories, and volume discounting is available for passengers and bus tours. It has been determined that seasonal and time-of-day/week pricing strategies will not result in net additional revenues or operations-delivery improvements. Furthermore, as an essential public transportation service, users and other customer stakeholder groups would criticize many of these alternate fare structure strategies.
This is a very sensitive issue within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador where public focus on Marine Atlantic is constant, both on the level and quality of service and particularly on our fare structure. In 2004, the rate increases received negative publicity with their announcement in late 2003. Newfoundland and Labrador federal politicians, provincial government departments, municipal governments, stakeholder groups, and the general public in Newfoundland and Labrador communicated their displeasure. […]”
“10.3 Marketing and Promotions
…, Marine Atlantic has concluded that significant marketing and promotion of its services is not appropriate to its mandate and is not effective in generating additional net financial benefits. […]”
With regard to Marine Atlantic’s media promotions, Byrne had this to say, “If Marine Atlantic’s belief is that it has lost a lot of business to the airlines and that it should try to promote itself back to being a better service than the airlines and get some of that market share back, I have one simple statement of fact to make and one simple statement of opinion to make. It has lost business to the airlines because it has become cheaper and more dependable to fly to Newfoundland & Labrador from Toronto and elsewhere than it is to include the ferry as part of the route. The best way to appeal to customers and bring them back to the ferry is to lower the overall rates. All the newspaper ads in the world won’t change that reality.”
While the Crown Corporation does not publicly release any annual figures related to its discounting and marketing budget, given the known size and intensity of the promotional effort, many presume that the total cost over the last five years for both the preparation of these ads and for the cost of putting them in print or on the air to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Marine Atlantic’s Vice President of Customer Relations, Don Barnes, was in the media this week indicating a number of special discount rates are being contemplated by the crown corporation contradicting its previous position on this issue.
Gerry Byrne is the MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte. To contact his office, call 709-637-4540
News in brief:
MP Byrne demands answers on Qalipu membership processing changes
April 3, 2015 – The Member of Parliament for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, Gerry Byrne, is furious over what the Federal Government had to say and how they said it regarding the future status of 94,000 Newfoundlanders and their families who are either existing members or who applied for membership in the Qalipu First Nation Band and have yet to hear back.
Just as newsrooms closed and government office phones were left unanswered for the four day Easter long weekend, the Harper government quietly posted an announcement on its web site indicating that the re-assessment of all memberships into Qalipu First Nation Band had now been put off another ten months. The new date for the new Enrollment Committee to complete its work is set as June 30, 2016 – a deadline pushed back another ten months from the previously announced date of August 31, 2015. No guarantees were given, however, that the 2016 date will be respected either.
The new dates imposed by the new supplementary agreement to the Supplementary Agreement to the 2008 Recognition Agreement means that no one will hear of their status until AFTER the October 2015 General Election! A point many applicants felt was by design. Any news of the status of the 94,000 Newfoundlanders and their families who are affected by the decisions surrounding the re-assessments won’t be received until after the fall federal election; a matter which government obviously hopes will take the issue off the table during the campaign.
The Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, Gerry Byrne, called the move callous and cowardly.
“Regular news gets announced by this government on any day during the week while bad news usually gets announced on a Friday afternoon in order to try to soften the reporting on the story. But really, really bad news gets announced at 5:30pm before a four day long weekend to try to shut down any reporting of it! The Harper government obviously knew this was really, really bad news because that’s exactly what they did”, Byrne said.
“As office lights and computers were being turned off at the end of Thursday of last week (April 2, 2015) to begin a four day federal holiday long weekend, one employee must have been asked to stay behind to post one last announcement on the government website: ‘94,000 Newfoundlanders being cheated once again’ should have been the title of what was posted”, Byrne bristled.
Byrne questions everything about this announcement.
“It’s not just the fact they tried to hide what they did, it’s the reasons they gave for what they did!”, Byrne scoffed.
“The government said they just couldn’t get through all 94,000 existing memberships and previously unprocessed applications in time for the June 30th deadline.
“Really, no kidding!”
“It took 48 months, four years, for the previous enrollment committee under Tom Rideout to process 30,000 applications and the government is surprised that they couldn’t plow through 94,000 applications in 18 months using one less enrollment committee member than before under the Supplementary Agreement! Go figure!”
All of this, Byrne said, is making people very frustrated and betrayed by what is actually very close to being considered a judicial process.
“This is about status recognition and constitutional rights that are being so carelessly being considered”, Byrne said. “There should be a higher standard of care and an expectation that government will fulfill its duty much more fairly than what is happening here. I could never see this happening anywhere else in Canada! I will not let the government get away with this. They need to be held to account.”
Gerry Byrne is the MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte. To contact his office, call 709-637-4540
January 30, 2015 – Corner Brook, NL – While the downward slide of the price of crude oil is taking a toll on the province’s finances and on many segments of the economy, Liberal Commons member Gerry Byrne still believes there might be a partial silver lining for the western Newfoundland region arising out of this reversal of fortune.
“The price of oil is down, way down, from six months ago and with it the Canadian dollar has taken a huge hit”, Byrne said. “And with that comes the long predicted hammer to the head for the provincial government’s finances. It also means a loss of an as yet unknown number of high paying jobs in the oil sector both here and out west. It’s going to be difficult for sure but the news may not be all bad. Low oil means cheaper operating costs for many local industries. A low dollar means better returns on resource exports destined for markets outside of Canada. It also means increased tourism opportunities coming from American travellers and from Canadian travellers no longer willing to head south.”
Byrne said the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill is not only a huge electricity user, it is a big oil consumer as well. He feels the purchase of bulk supplies of Bunker ‘C’ at $47 a barrel is a much better proposition for the local mill then at $100 a barrel. But the biggest boost, the MP said, comes for the currency exchange.
“Newsprint prices are based on US dollars. When paper is sold in US dollars and that money is converted into Canadian dollars that are trading at between 75 and 80 cents US, it is the equivalent of Kruger receiving a 25 percent increase in its price per tonne. And that is good news indeed for us all.”
Byrne said the low Canadian dollar is also money in the pocket for the province’s seafood exporters as the same principle applies. He also said it means that Americans will find it much, much cheaper to visit Canada this year compared to previous years simply because, for every one American dollar they convert to Canadian, they are getting roughly a dollar twenty five back on their money to spend. He said western Newfoundland’s tourism product just became a whole lot more competitive if for no other reason than the currency exchange.
He cautioned, however, that for any of this to make a real difference to the local economy and to be a benefit to people, the paper mill needs to take those additional revenues and invest it back into the remaining unfunded liability in the employee’s pension plan and to mill improvements, fishermen and loggers need to get a dividend from the higher price paid to the exporter and the federal government needs to make Marine Atlantic more affordable and dependable so tourists can get here to spend their money to begin with.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that will actually happen”, Byrne said.
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