P.E.I. Premier Dennis King will meet with Sen. Percy Downe on Monday to talk about ways to reduce the cost of ferry and bridge tolls on the Island.
In the recent provincial election, the PC’s platform included a commitment to create a working group, including Downe, “to work with the federal government to decrease the cost of bridge tolls and ferry service.”
This week, Downe released a letter he sent to the prime minister, outlining how he says unused infrastructure money could be used to reduce tolls to $20. The toll is currently $47.75 for most vehicles on the Confederation Bridge and $79 for the ferry. Drivers only pay when leaving the Island.
But on Wednesday, King seemed to be tamping down expectations, saying he wasn’t certain there’s any way the province can find a way to reduce those charges.
“I think it is a priority for Islanders that we give this a really significant look to see what we can do,” he said.
“At the end of the day we may not be able to do anything, that could be a very realistic outcome. I’d like to talk to Senator Downe … and build upon some of the work he’s done and see what we can do to make life a little bit easier and a little bit more competitive here.”
Downe has been advocating for removing tolls on the Confederation Bridge since 2015, arguing since the federal Liberals followed through on a promise not to charge tolls on the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal, Islanders shouldn’t have to pay either.
But Downe said this is the first time an Island premier has asked to meet with him to discuss the issue.
“I have discussed the issue with individual MLAs over the years, and if the Green Party leader and/or interim Liberal leader or other caucuses want to meet, I would be pleased to discuss it with them as well,” Downe told CBC via email.
Free passes for medical appointments
It was interim Liberal Leader Robert Mitchell who raised the issue in the provincial legislature Wednesday, asking the new PC government to fulfil a Liberal election promise to expand a program offering free bridge and ferry passes to Islanders heading to the mainland for medical appointments.
“The previous [Liberal] government has left this Conservative government with a significant surplus,” said Mitchell. “This is something that we would like them to take a serious hard look at, because these hardships during these medical times are difficult on families.”
Mitchell said the current push by the PCs to reduce tolls for all Islanders “could take many many years as we all know.”
King said he’d already asked the province’s new health minister to consider expanding the toll support program.
He said he also hopes to raise the issue during a sit-down meeting with the prime minister in July.
No word on membership of working group
But he said there are no plans at this point to discuss the issue with either of the private companies that operate Confederation Bridge or the ferry service to P.E.I.
Neither is there a clear picture of who might be included in the proposed working group.
“I think you will see as this government sort of ages and gets into place, a lot of these things will begin to take shape,” said King, adding that he wanted Downe’s input on how to proceed.
“I think what we have to do is figure out what the terms of reference … of such a group would be, how we would go about populating that group.”