North Island-Powell River MP, Rachel Blaney and federal Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau have been corresponding over the decision to ban ferry passengers from lower car decks. (Black Press Media file photo)

Vancouver Island MP and Minister Garneau exchange letters on BC Ferries safety regulations

MP Blaney asks minister Garneau to explain to British Columbians the ‘reasoning’ behind ferry passengers being banned from lower car decks

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and federal Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau exchanged letters on BC Ferries safety regulations where the NDP whip expressed her dissatisfaction with Ottawa’s decision to ban passengers from remaining on the lower car decks during the pandemic.

Blaney called on Garneau to explain to British Columbians the reasoning behind the recent decision and said that, “a government-knows-best attitude from Transport Canada in Ottawa is obviously not inspiring confidence here on the west coast.”

On Sept.10, Blaney wrote to Garneau objecting to the ministry’s decision to rescind an exception that allowed passengers to remain in their vehicles on several routes, including the Powell River-Comox ferry, in order to decrease contact during the COVID pandemic.

Since the announcement that the exception would end Sept. 30, many coastal residents who rely on the ferries as well as workers, community leaders and the BC Government have raised concerns.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will not be over by Sept. 30”, wrote Blaney. “The risk of transmission in enclosed spaces, such as ferry passenger decks on busy sailings, remains high.”

Minister Garneau responded to the letter on Monday suggesting that “wearing a face mask, washing your hands regularly, and physical distancing” were enough to mitigate the risk of COVID transmission while on board, and that passengers can simply ask to be loaded onto partially enclosed decks instead.

He also highlighted some important safety concerns related to passengers remaining in their vehicles on fully enclosed decks in his letter to Blaney.

“Enclosed decks are specifically designed to contain smoke and fire, in order to protect the other levels of the ship and allow more time for those passengers to safely evacuate. On these decks, fueled vehicles, bulk and dangerous goods are often parked tightly together. If something were to happen–say a fire, flooding or collision –evacuating everyone safely would be difficult and potentially dangerous,” said Garneau.

Following minister Garneau’s response, Blaney has asked for the data or risk-assessment that supported the decision.

She also asked what measures Transport Canada is taking to ensure the safety of passengers and of BC Ferries workers who have been bearing the brunt of passenger’s frustration adding, “there is an obvious disconnect between the decisions being made at Transport Canada and what is happening on the ground.”

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