Stop trying to solve the money woes of BC Ferries (BCF) on the backs of gulf islanders. Stop onerous fare increases that are de-populating the islands. Return the ferries corporation to the Ministry of Transportation where it has always belonged.
These messages were delivered resoundingly Tuesday when more than 125 Quadra Islanders filled their community hall to “engage” with Ministry of Transportation and BCF officials.
Following a January report by BC Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee, the province committed to pump an additional $80 million into the financially wavering corporation up to 2016. But, ferry users were called on to “make up the remaining $30 million” needed through service “adjustments.” Service reductions on the major routes accounted for $4 million leaving gulf islanders to make up the balance, $26 million.
However, on Quadra Island the word “adjustments” means “cuts” and no one was buying it Tuesday evening.
Strathcona Regional District Director, retired lighthouse keeper and Quadra resident Jim Abram set the tone at the government’s “consultation and engagement session” when he said: “You are starting at the wrong end.
“You are trying to save $26 million to make a broken system sustainable. It can’t be done. The corporation needs to be dissolved. We need to get rid of the BC Ferries Authority, the board directors and the ferry commissioner and go back to having a ferry system that takes people from here to there and back reliably, efficiently and sustainably like it once did.
“There is not a road or a bridge in this province that isn’t heavily subsidized by all taxpayers. I’m filling pot holes in Dawson Creek and ploughing snow in Fort Nelson. And, I want them to be helping us cross the marine highway here.”
Paul Ryan, Chair of the Campbell River, Quadra, Cortes Ferry Advisory Committee, said: “In order to pay for rising costs fares have more than doubled and it is killing us.
“The reason why we’re here today is because the government has refused to fund the ferry service at the same level as every other transportation facility in the province and you are trying to find a way to get around it. Now you are going to cut service. You’ll be back here in four years looking for more cuts and we’ll be left with one run a day and nobody living here.”
Ministry of Transportation Marine Executive Director Mike Handraham said it was “not correct” that the $26 million would be saved on the backs of gulf islanders.
“Four million in savings has already been found on the major routes; there have been no decisions made on the other $26 million,” he said.
BCF’s Director of Fleet Operations Strategy Peter Simpson acknowledged he is hearing some “frustration.” He told the Mirror: “We’re hearing that ferry fares are too high. They want to keep the levels of service. We are hearing from some of the ferry advisory committees that there is some frustration.” He reiterated that there have been “no decisions on service levels.”
“Our primary concern is to ensure the system is efficient, safe as possible and sustainable,” Simpson said.
But, most residents attending the meeting were convinced service cuts are a foregone conclusion. Retired nuclear scientist Peter Gellatly said: “They are going to de-populate the islands. Service cuts are a bottomless pit. If they do something such as knocking off the first sailing of the day that will be one young family that has to leave the island because some guy can’t get to work.”
North Island NDP MLA and Quadra resident Claire Trevena cut to the chase: “There is a lot of cynicism and the only way people’s voices are going to be heard after 12 years of seeing their ferry service diminished, their infrastructure depleted and the cost of ferry service and our cost of living going up is by voting out the Liberal government in May 2013 … that’s how voices get heard. Meeting after meeting after meeting … the government does not listen.”
The consultation team moved on to Cortes Island for another session Thursday. The series of 38 community meetings wraps up Dec. 8.
An initial report will be tabled in February and more consultations will be scheduled to review its conclusions. A final report is expected by the end of June, but that will almost certainly be sidelined by the provincial election.