Nine Coastal Regional District chairs and vice chairs, from Metro Vancouver to Victoria, and north to Bella Coola, have united in voicing their concerns over coastal communities impacted from BC Ferry Corporation fare increases.
On July 19 they met with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Blair Lekstrom, to discuss the issue. They presented evidence that the fare increases are damaging island and coastal communities, and advised the Minister that the original objectives of the Coastal Ferry Act have not been met.
Members of the group also presented the concept that ferry service could be considered an extension of highway service, which could require that it be treated and funded in the same manner as non-marine infrastructure.
“The point was that [ferries] should be treated exactly as the highways are,” said Strathcona Regional District chair, Jim Abram.
He wants the service put back under the wing of the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. Abram is confident Lekstrom will consider all options.
“I think that the tide is turning. I really do,” said Abram. “Blair tries to do what’s right as far as I’m concerned.”
According to Abram, Gulf Island communities have seen population and business declines.
He cited Quadra Island Elementary School’s enrollment decline; from 325 children in the late 1990’s to just 89 children now.
“The public just can’t take it anymore,” said Abram. “We have all of these communities that contribute greatly to the wealth of the province, and why is it that the ferries are not being treated as highways connecting those communities? Give me a break.”
Together this group of regional districts represents 2.9 million British Columbians, or 63 percent of the provincial population. According to Abram, this diverse group of regional districts coming together is not the norm.
“It’s a very unusual situation for a group of chairs and vice chairs from all the coastal regional districts to get together with a common purpose,” he explained.
The entire group will be meeting with the Ferry Commissioner on Aug. 8, and plans to meet with Premier Christy Clark as well as Lekstrom, at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention during September, according to Abram.
The group intends to put an Emergency Resolution forward during the convention, asking for the ferry system to be part of the highways system.
Abram is confident it will pass.
“I don’t believe there will be any opposition to that resolution,” said Abram.