Government of Canada freezes toll on Confederation Bridge

  • National Newswatch

 The Government of Canada has announced they will be freezing the toll on Confederation Bridge. This is wonderful news and the first acknowledgement from the Government of Canada that the high tolls are an unfair burden on Prince Edward Islanders. However, this announcement is a far cry from addressing the significant discrepancy in how the federal government treats Canadians when it comes to charging tolls on transportation infrastructure depending on where one lives in Canada.

The federal government owns a number of major bridges in Canada, among them are the Gordie Howe Bridge in Windsor, the Champlain Bridge in Montreal, and Confederation Bridge in Prince Edward Island. Two of these bridges have tolls, while the Champlain Bridge – notwithstanding the fact that it cost three times more money to construct than Confederation Bridge – is toll free. This is grossly unfair and creates resentments and divisions in our country.

Tolls not only impacts Islanders directly for their personal travel, it also increases the price of products delivered to and exported from our province, driving up prices for businesses and consumers.

To compound the unfairness of the actions of the federal government in maintaining the high toll on Confederation Bridge is the realization that the yearly subsidy the Government of Canada provides to the Champlain Bridge in Quebec is higher than the combined subsidy to the Wood Islands Ferry and Confederation Bridge. If the federal government provided the same annual subsidy to the Wood Islands Ferry and the Confederation Bridge, both their tolls could be reduced to $20.

The money to fund such a subsidy can be found as surely as it was for a toll-free Champlain Bridge. For example, the Investing in Canada Plan, a twelve-year, $180 billion program initiated in 2016 to fund “for infrastructure that benefits Canadians”. Surely some of that money could be dedicated to existing infrastructure in order to reduce the cost of living for Islanders, to make our exports more competitive and our imports more affordable for Island consumers.

The history of user-pay on federal transportation infrastructure in Canada is clear: tolls were charged, including on the first Champlain Bridge, and that's how the users of the infrastructure paid for it. Prince Edward Islanders understood this and agreed to tolls as a condition of the construction of Confederation Bridge, which has proven to be a wonderful asset for our province. However in 2015, as part of an election promise, the federal government changed that policy and removed the tolls on the Champlain Bridge, leaving us holding the bag and still paying these outrageous tolls for our bridge.

It is time for the federal government to correct the problem they created when they changed the long-standing user pay infrastructure policy in our country. In consultation with the Prince Edward Island government, they should explore options to recite this costly mistake.

If we are ever to fix this problem, Islanders must work together and keep the pressure on the Government of Canada. The federal government cannot defend the unfairness of their decision to leave tolls on Confederation Bridge, so why have they not changed it?

Percy Downe is a Senator from Charlottetown.