POLITICS

Audit of Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service does not break down costs

01/15/2015 10:32 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - An audit of the money-losing ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Portland, Maine, supports the company's operating costs but provides no detail on where the money was spent.

Breakdowns on the costs of Nova Star's transactions are blacked out in the $90,000, eight-page report by KPMG that was released Thursday.

Economic Development Minister Michel Samson downplayed the lack of detail, saying the principle finding of the audit is what's important to the public. Specific costs were deemed proprietary by the company, he added.

"The message to Nova Scotians is that the money that was invested by the province of Nova Scotia has been spent appropriately," said Samson. "I don't think the people of Nova Scotia were necessarily concerned with how much money Nova Star spent on toilet paper."

When the provincial government announced the audit in October, it said the review would audit costs, look for savings and advise on a plan for the future.

Samson said the province was getting ongoing advice from KPMG but he declined to give details.

The report says KPMG examined 1,037 transactions worth more than $25 million, but Nova Star was unable to provide supporting documentation for 35 of them worth more than $79,000. Samson said the company is still working to provide receipts for transactions that represent less than one per cent of the overall total that were audited.

The government gave the company an additional $5 million last fall on top of a $21-million loan that was spent in the first two months of the Nova Star's inaugural sailing season.

That loan was supposed to last seven years.

The province's previous NDP government promised to revive the service after killing it in 2009 by eliminating an annual subsidy. That subsidy totalled $15.7 million over the last four years that the ferry service was in operation, which began in 1997.

Samson wouldn't say whether more funding would be made available as the province continues to negotiate a new operating contract with the company.

Chris d'Entremont, a Progressive Conservative member of the legislature, said the audit report falls well short of the transparency promised by the government.

"The things I wanted to find out, like how much got spent on what, was blacked out so we didn't learn anything here," said d'Entremont.

Meanwhile, Nova Star said the ferry was scheduled to leave Shelburne on Thursday for Charleston, S.C., where it would berth for the immediate future or until winter work is found.

The operator said it would be responsible for the berthing fees in the U.S. and that passengers would be able to make reservations for the 2015 season for its Canada-U.S. run within the next few weeks.