MPP Hsu addresses Minister Mulroney on continued Wolfe Island ferry follies

The Wolfe Islander III sits idle at the Kingston dock on the night of Sunday, May 14, 2023, after staff shortages once again led to the suspension of ferry services. Photo by Kingstonist.

When the lives of at least two people travelling on the Wolfe Island ferry in early February 2023 were put at serious risk due to a ramp failure, many people who depend on the ferry wondered what more would have to happen before this situation was addressed.

In fact, shortly after that incident — in which a quick-thinking Wolfe Island resident (and his dump truck) made it to terra firma on the Island side of the ramp, and bystanders pulled another man to safety after that ramp gave way — Dan Berry, the driver of the dump truck, remarked, “If something like this happened on the 401, it goes to the news and it gets fixed.”

“Had someone actually [been seriously] hurt, what steps would have been taken?” Berry said at the time.

While no one will ever know the answer to that question, it seems clear that, unlike a situation on Highway 401 — which would see the highway tended to in short order, if past events are any indication — the situation with the Wolfe Islander III has certainly not evoked the same sense of urgency.

As has been the case in several disruptions of the ferry service — which connects some 3,000 Wolfe Island residents to the mainland — a lack of staff has once again led to cancelled trips to and from Kingston, where many of the Island’s residents work, attend school, and/or socialize. In fact, the latest case of a shortage of required certified mariners happened on a date that typically sees heightened traffic to and from the Island as families come together: Mother’s Day. On Sunday, May 14, 2023, at 3:27 p.m., the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) gave “notice” of another such shortage of staff, resulting in the cancellation of ferry service at 8 p.m. that day.

As per usual, in order to announce this suspension of services to Wolfe Islanders and Kingstonians — who have been scratching their heads in confusion since the new electric ferry intended to replace the aged Wolfe Islander III arrived locally well over a year and a half ago — the MTO used its preferred method of communication: the “Wolfe Islander III” Twitter account.

This change in regular service definitely created more of a disruption than many of the previous service disruptions have. Wolfe Islanders took to social media, describing failing to make it back to the dock for the now-last boat to the Island after visiting mom out of town; rushing out in the middle of dinner with mom in a mad dash to catch the 7 p.m. ferry, the last one that would depart from the Kingston side; having to leave family gatherings Island-side far earlier than expected; and, once again, being stranded on either side with nothing to do and nowhere to go for the night. Thankfully, Islanders once again rose to the occasion, with hotels on the Island opening up to anyone in need. For those stranded on the Kingston side, the story doesn’t have such a warm ending, literally or figuratively.

But during that chaos and confusion, another distressing situation unfolded. And the fact that it is the second time this has happened in the past year doesn’t make it any less frightening, sad, or risky.

While Islanders and non-Islanders alike were lined up on both sides of Lake Ontario or taking to social media to voice their frustrations, a call for emergency services came in to the Kingston Central Ambulance Communications Centre: someone on the Island was in medical distress and needed emergency assistance.

With the ferry out of service, the call bounced around as emergency response organizations figured out the best course of action. After several minutes — precious minutes in terms of emergency response — it was decided that the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) would be employed to transfer the patient from the Island to Kingston. Staff of Frontenac Paramedic Services rushed to Portsmouth Olympic Harbour on the Kingston side, where paramedics boarded a CCG vessel and raced to the Island as fast as safely possible.

In the end, the patient transfer took approximately the same amount of time it would have if the ferry had been operational. But that doesn’t alleviate the concern and anger of those who could easily see how the situation could have ended differently – and whose frustrations with the ferry were actually far from over.

That’s because the following morning, Monday, May 15, 2023, Islanders woke to more unwanted news — once again communicated via the Wolfe Islander III Twitter account.

“Wolfe Islander is having engine issues this morning,” the 6:13 a.m. tweet read. “Will be delayed leaving.”

School buses sit at the front of the line of vehicles waiting to board the Wolfe Islander III on the morning of Monday, May 15, 2023, after the ferry encountered “engine issues,” according to the MTO. Submitted photo.

By this point, Ted Hsu, Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Kingston and the Islands, had already indicated that he was aware of the latest iteration of ‘ferry follies’ and planned to bring the matter to the floor of the Ontario Legislature when the provincial government met on Monday, May 15, 2023. But that wouldn’t happen before every high school student on the Island ended up sitting in a school bus, waiting for something to happen so they could get to school. Nor before countless Islanders were frantically calling in late to work – probably not for the first time this year.

The ferry was running again — off schedule — by 9 a.m., and Hsu was next to weigh in.

At 10:30 a.m., the Legislative Assembly of Ontario convened, and quickly, member statements were up on the agenda. Hsu rose to speak on behalf of his constituents, addressing MPP Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation.

“Yet again, that [ferry] shutdown included emergency services because last night, a Coast Guard ship was needed to bring paramedics to the island,” Hsu said of the Mother’s Day suspension of service and the subsequent call for medical assistance by an Island resident.

“And this morning there are long lineups on both the mainland and the Island docks. There were engine issues that prevented the ferry from running until just about an hour ago,” the MPP continued.

“Add to that all the people who had to stay overnight on the wrong side of the water, and all the people that are waiting to start their day, and it’s a total mess under this government. We have a new ferry, which arrived one and a half years ago and still isn’t in use; we have new docks, whose construction has been delayed by years. The government has paid two to three times the regular cost to hire temporary workers, but still the lives of those who live or work on Wolfe Island and Kingston are being continually disrupted.”

Hsu concluded his address with a call to action: “I call on this government to realize that workers have choices, to pay competitive salaries, and to expedite the training of more licensed ferry operators. And I call on the Minister to give [the matter] her personal attention and to take personal responsibility for managing the Wolfe Island Ferry situation until it stabilizes.”

Kingstonist has reached out to the MTO, asking that it clarify the issues that occurred, comment on what is being done to prevent this happening again, and confirm when Wolfe Islanders can expect the long-promised “spring” arrival of the Wolfe Islander IV to occur. No response was received by time of publication.

Kingstonist has also reached out to Minister Mulroney directly to request an interview, by which questions submitted by Wolfe Island and Kingston residents would be posed to the Minister. No response was received by time of publication.

While waiting for response from these authorities, Kingstonist has begun a series of short interviews with those most affected by the constant disruptions to what once was a reliable ferry service that ran like clockwork. Anyone who wishes to submit questions to have answered by Minister Mulroney once an interview is secured can do so by emailing [email protected].

This is a developing story with more to come.

2 thoughts on “MPP Hsu addresses Minister Mulroney on continued Wolfe Island ferry follies

  • I see the new Amherst Island ferry out of my window everyday. Never moves an inch. This is a major government faux pas, proof that they can’t get the trains to run on time. Meanwhile, new zoning orders in Mississauga (even though there are no new schools and infrastructure and the local gov’t doesn’t want it) and chipping away at the Greenbelt. For Ford’s friends, enough is never enough; for the citizens of this province, Ford’s gov’t is a do-nothing government.

  • This marathon ferry issue has been going on far too long. Kudos to Mr Hsu for his efforts as our MPP to pressure the provincial government to stop dragging its feet. The new ferry, the Wolfe Islander IV should have been here long before now.

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