Public meetings to address challenges at BC Ferries will fail, says group of regional district chairs

A group of coastal regional district chairs say the B.C. government’s upcoming public meetings surrounding cutbacks by BC Ferries will fail

A group of coastal regional district chairs say the B.C. government’s upcoming public meetings surrounding cutbacks by BC Ferries will fail.

The chairs, and chair representatives, are urging the Minister of Transportation to go back to the drawing board and simplify the process.

“The strong opinion of the entire group was that the consultation as proposed would be a dismal failure,” said Quadra Island Director Jim Abram.

Abram, representing the Strathcona Regional District, met with the group of coastal regional district chairs as well as Transportation Ministry staff Oct. 17 in Nanaimo for a pre-consultation session.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak plans to begin public meetings in November to provide information to British Columbians about the challenges facing the ferry system, namely a $26 million shortfall, despite an $80 million funding injection from the Ministry of Transportation and the go ahead from Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee to raise rates 12 per cent over the next four years.

Facing a decline in ridership, BC Ferries has been ordered by the province to come up with $30 million in service reductions over four years.

Service on minor routes – including the Quadra, Cortes, Denman, and Hornby runs – are expected to see the majority of the cuts.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak said earlier this week her ministry will be conducting a series of public consultation meetings in communities that stand to be affected.

Polak said her ministry will be looking for feedback from the public to gage the level of support for BC Ferries’ proposals. But Colin Palmer, chair of the Power River Regional District, who wrote a letter to Polak on behalf of the 13 coastal regional district chairs, said the process is flawed.

“If the public are going to give you valid input during the consultation process, we believe considerably more work is necessary to refine the consultation process,” Palmer wrote.

“The background information intended for the public to understand the challenges facing the coastal ferry service is incomplete and presupposes an existing high level of knowledge on a wide range of issues and details of the coastal ferry service. As a case in point, the request to our group to fill out feedback forms within two days was very inappropriate even though our group is arguably well versed on the issues. We also have strong concerns that you and the government will be held accountable to the outcome of a flawed process.”

The coastal chairs also agreed that there needs to be a consultation process in every ferry-dependent community, that the marine highway (ferries) need to be treated the same as the highway system, and that the consultation process is being rushed and will not be effective the way its being proposed by the province.