Next ferry fight: ferry night watchmen

Service cuts: Emergency response on Quadra Island would be hampered

The public backlash against BC Ferries and the provincial government may just be getting started.

While BC Ferries has not publicly confirmed it, there’s speculation that the night watchman position is the next to go in the corporation’s effort to save millions of dollars.

Director Jim Abram, who sits on a ferries board of regional district coastal chairs, found out last month that BC Ferries has been considering eliminating the night watchman, who provides overnight security at the ferry terminal.

But more than that, the night watchman is the required third crew member on a call-out – a sailing after hours in the event of a medical emergency.

“I was livid,” Abram said upon hearing the news.

Paul Ryan, chair of the Campbell River/Cortes/Quadra ferry advisory committee, told more than 60 people gathered at the Quadra Community Centre last Wednesday that he approached BC Ferries about the night watchman and was told a decision would be coming in the next few weeks.

“They told me that cancelling this position is part of the $14 million savings the province mandated BC Ferries to put into effect,” Ryan said. “I was told the senior people in BC Ferries were meeting, I was told last Thursday (April 3) – and they were going to reverse their position on the night watchman. So stand by. I can guarantee you it will be a huge fight if they do cut the position.”

If the night watchman is eliminated, BC Ferries plans to put up fencing and CCTV cameras for security.

But the impacts are more far-reaching.

“When they do a call out, he’s part of the crew,” Ryan said. “If he’s not there they have to find someone else and that’s problematic because not all the crew live on Quadra, some live in Campbell River. Two people work on the vessel at night – one is the watchman.”

That type of delay could be critical for someone suffering from a medical emergency.

One Quadra Island resident, who spoke passionately about the night watchman during last week’s community ferries meeting, said time could mean the cost of a life.

“This is very personal for me,” said the choked up mother. “I have a child that’s living because I could get on the ferry.”

If there is no ferry, the alternative is the coast guard.

But the Cape Palmerston is small and family members are not typically allowed to ride with the patient.

There’s also the issue of a time delay in calling the coast guard over to the Quadra Island terminal.

Director Abram said if BC Ferries goes through with eliminating the night watchman position, the first incident will be on the ferry corporation’s hands.

“You’re going to be responsible,” Abram said. “You, the BC Ferries Corporation and the government, will be responsible for the first issue we have transporting someone.”