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Abram: Ferry consultation complete sham

Strathcona Regional District Director Jim Abram says the province’s upcoming public engagement process to find savings within BC Ferries is “a complete sham.”

Abram, director representing Quadra Island, revealed Monday morning why a group of coastal regional district chairs rejected the provincial Ministry of Transportation’s public consultation proposal presented to the group at a meeting Oct. 17 in Nanaimo.

“The insulting part of the whole thing was the fact they passed out three documents – two were charts of sailings and ridership, basically usage of the ferries, and they would not let us keep those,” Abram said. “They collected everything at the end of the meeting except for a question and answer form they wanted us to fill out at the meeting before going back to our boards or communities.”

Abram said the meeting lasted just two hours and the chairs were not allowed to see the material covered prior to the meeting, nor were they given an agenda, though the group asked to see one weeks before the meeting.

“I was rushed like I’ve never been rushed, we were jumping from page to page, we were not even allowed to see the material before we got into the room,” said Abram, who feels the government is trying to wrap up the process before the next provincial election, tentatively scheduled for May 14, 2013. “The pre-consultation meeting was basically to try and tell the consultant companies and the ministry whether they had it right.

“We were able to answer that question clearly because they absolutely did not have it right. The consultation process they’re completely blowing, it’s just a complete sham.”

Abram said the biggest problem with the ministry’s proposal was it did not include public consultations in every ferry dependent community, rather only the bigger communities such as Nanaimo, Vancouver, and Victoria.

Abram said no meetings were being scheduled for Quadra, Cortes, Hornby or Denman islands, just Campbell River. And the meetings that would be held were pencilled in for a couple of hours in the middle of the work day.

However, by Monday afternoon the government had launched a website outlining its consultation and engagement process. According to the website, meetings have been scheduled for most coastal communities including Quadra on Nov. 27 from 6-9 p.m. and Cortes on Nov. 28 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., times Abram said still won’t work for Cortes Islanders. Campbell River’s meeting was scratched.

The transportation ministry is undertaking the public meetings to address how the corporation should handle service cuts to the tune of $26 million on the minor routes.

Cash-strapped BC Ferries was ordered by Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee to find the savings after the corporation reported a loss of fare revenue last year, including a 21-year low in passenger traffic and a 13-year low in vehicle traffic.

But Abram said it’s not a loss, but simply the cost of doing business.

“There isn’t a transportation system in our country that isn’t running at a loss,” Abram said. “The whole concept of saving $26 million to save the corporation is completely flawed. This transportation system needs to be treated like all transportation systems. It needs to be paid for by the public in general, not just the users.”

And according to the weekly poll on our website, campbellrivermirror.com, it seems most people agree with Abram. As of Tuesday morning 93 per cent of voters (or 366 of 390 votes) said the BC ferry system should be treated like the highways.

Meanwhile, the government recently gave BC Ferries the go-ahead to raise ferry fares 12 per cent over the next four years as well as an order to find savings in its operations through service cuts.

Abram said BC Ferries will be looking at all the minor routes, including service between Campbell River and Quadra Island and between Quadra Island and Cortes Island.

The engagement process will cover a range of topics, including the best method of delivering ferry service, whether it be by cable ferries, passenger-only service, or bridges to some of the smaller islands. The consultation process will also gage residents’ support of a property tax hike in communities that depend on ferry service to fund the ferries.

The public consultation period begins Nov. 6 in Sandspit on Haida Gwaii. A series of 38 meetings takes place between November and December. Feedback will also be accepted online at www.coastalferriesengagement.ca

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