‘Our government needs to hear our views’

Local director responds to criticism about his criticism

Re: your Dec. 22, 2017 front page story, “Minister of Transportation takes issue with claim ferry review a waste of time,” I have the following comments.

Let us take a step back and have a look at the comments that have been made by the government in recent months regarding this review.

We were first told in press releases that it was a “comprehensive” review. Then we were told by the Premier himself that “everything is on the table” and finally our minister told the media numerous times that “it will cover soup to nuts” (from the definition, meaning “from beginning to end”).

As the local government representative on the Strathcona Regional District for the Discovery Islands – Mainland Inlets and as the SRD representative to the Regional District Ferry Chairs Group (all of the coastal Regional Districts are part of this group) I have heard over and over that unless we look at governance of BC Ferries we are “wasting our time.” The main issue that needs fixing is the governance and all of the other parts that the review is looking at would be viewed with that lens if it was included as part of the review. The outcome of governance model is not predetermined but it is missing from the review entirely and could be looked at during the same process rather than coming back and spending more money and time to look at it later. Each part is intricately tied to the other and one cannot separate out key parts and look at others in isolation.

The minister disagrees with, as she states, my “continually” asserting that the ferries should be part of the Ministry of “Highways” (actually I try to be precise and always say Ministry of Transportation). She goes on to state that “Mr. Abram should know that the coastal ferries network has never been under the auspices of the ministry…..”.

Well, in 1960 the government managed ferry operations directly through the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. Ferry services were regarded primarily as an extension of the highway system and were treated as one component of a much larger government department. That perspective changed in 1977 when Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett’s government made BC Ferries a crown corporation and it continued until 1985. Then, later, it evolved under the Coastal Ferry Act into a Ferry Authority in 2003 (no one is really sure what that means!).

She suggests that I am jumping to conclusions about “tearing up the Coastal Ferry Act.” Well, she should talk to the Premier since he is the one that stated that at an Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities gathering before the election when asked what would be the first thing that the NDP would do about ferries if elected. That is called repeating a statement, not jumping to conclusions. I have known John Horgan for years and consider him to be a man of his word.

She suggests that “the review will determine where the system can be fixed so coastal communities have the ferry service they expect.” Common sense would suggest that starting at the beginning with the review of the governance being the logical spot, not trying to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic by looking at the minor details.

I support the review process as promised by the government during the election. But I cannot support leaving out the main item for discussion: governance.

During the election we were promised a reduction of fares on the minor routes, a freeze on fares on the major routes and the reinstatement of the senior discount. After the election government then told us that we would have to wait until April and the new budget period.

People did complain but have mostly been patient and respectful of the process that the government would need to go through. But we can’t wait much longer. Our communities and Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast are all suffering at the hands of BC Ferries. We all look forward to the changes in April and applaud the government for making these changes.

I have never made my comments personal since I know that the government “machine” moves in strange ways. All elected representatives put in an inordinate amount of time and energy and I totally respect that and appreciate it.

It is inappropriate to personally be criticized, as the messenger for the coastal view regarding ferries. Our government needs to hear our views.

Respectfully

Jim Abram

Director

Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets, Area C

Strathcona Regional District

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