Hundreds of Quadra Islanders are heading to Victoria next week to protest rising BC Ferries fares and service cuts.
They will join people from across the province in a Defend Our Marine Highways Rally on the front lawn of the B.C. legislature.
Jim Abram, director for Area B (Quadra Island) said he hopes Campbell Riverites will join in.
“I can’t express how important it is for the people of Campbell River to come to this demonstration, they are in fact affected,” Abram said. “The number of dollars that go into the Campbell River region from the outer islands is in the tens of millions of dollars per year.”
Abram said the last report, which was from a few years back, was $16 million per year.
“It’s very important,” Abram said. “Campbell River wants to embark upon a regional tourism initiative that includes the outer islands, and they want to be the aquaculture hub. Those depend on the ferry service.”
Abram also noted that 60 per cent of Walcan’s 150 employees come from Campbell River to Quadra Island each day for work at the plant.
But that’s getting harder for those employees as ferry fares are increasing (a 3.5 per cent fuel charge hike in January and a fare hike of four per cent April 1) and the government is planning to eliminate the last sailing each day leaving both Quadra Island and Campbell River.
Abram said the rally, which takes place this Tuesday, March 11, is to let the government know that these are issues that are affecting the entire province. To drive home that point, the rally will include not only coastal community representatives but those from the Lower Mainland as well.
“I expect what this protest is going to do is make it clear to the B.C. government that this is not a coastal issue, it is a provincial issue and the provincial government is going to suffer,” Abram said. “More than one-third (38 per cent) of the provincial economy comes from coastal communities.”
Abram said the rally, which could see thousands of people attend, includes a lengthy list of speakers such as the mayor of Victoria, the chair of the Metro Vancouver regional district, two First Nations speakers, and the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce board chair.
Abram said the whole situation could be resolved if the government would listen to the will of the people and bring BC Ferries back under the B.C. ministry of transportation.
“Until the government wakes up and treats our marine highway in the same manner as the terrestrial highways, BC Ferries will never be sustainable,” Abram said. “We are the marine highway and need to be treated as such.”
Jef Keighley, chair of the BC Ferry coalition, said all coastal residents want is to pay their fair share.
“Coastal British Columbians take no issue with paying our fair share of the provincial highways budget, which includes free inland ferries,” Keighley said. “But we do take issue with being double-dipped and being forced to pay up to 98 per cent of the operations costs of BC Ferries on top of our provincial highways contribution. Our coastal ferries are our marine highways and should be funded as part of the provincial transportation system.”
The Defend Our Marine Highways rally takes place Tuesday from 11-2 p.m.
Four buses will transport anyone who would like to go for a donation of $10 or more, round trip. The buses leave the Quadra ferry terminal on the Campbell River side at 6:30 a.m. and return at 6 p.m.