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Government gets into ferry business

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Providence (Dec 16/05) - Avoiding the labour strife that tormented Fort Simpson in the fall, Rowe's Construction has turned over the balance of the Mackenzie River ferry contract to the territorial government.

Owen Rowe, an owner of Rowe's Construction, said the two sides reached a "fair and amicable" agreement, but declined to discuss specifics.

"This one went good," he said. "It (the ferry contract) was a small part of our business, and nobody needs those headaches. I've got nothing else to say on it."

With a bid of close to $2.5 million, Rowe's Construction won the three-year Mackenzie River ferry tender in 2004, meaning one full operating season remained.

Bob Kelly, manager of public affairs with the department of Transportation, refused to comment on the situation until Wednesday morning.

Transportation Minister Michael McLeod was travelling Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada had started the bargaining process on behalf of the ferry crew, but "the next thing we knew they were going to get turned over to the territorial government," union negotiator Dave Thompson said.

"I'd like to know what motivated the government to do that, but it's good for our members," he said, noting the ferry workers will be unionized under the GNWT as their counterparts in Fort Simpson now are.

Commenting on the government's policy that led to its taking over the ferry operation at Fort Providence, Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee said, "I support the government's takeover of the service and I support the jobs becoming government jobs and union positions."

Lee argued that at the federal level, services described as "essential" are taken over by the government when they are disrupted. She is in favour of a government takeover of ferry services because of what she saw happen at Fort Simpson.

"That was when I became aware of this kind of situation. Government has to make sure there is no disruption," Lee said.