General · 20th July 2011
Submitted by Jim Abram, Vice Chair of the Board and Director, Discovery Islands – Mainland Inlets, Strathcona Regional District
July 19, 2011
to Honourable Blair Lekstrom
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure
Ever since its establishment, the B.C. Ferries system has operated as an effective and reliable transportation system for the island communities of this province, including Vancouver Island. It was wisely established as part of the highway system and operated as such until 2003. At that time a new entity was established that has caused nothing but grief for island communities, the families that live there and the businesses that previously thrived. The experiment has proven to be a failure on the minor routes, causing hardship to families, loss of jobs and devaluation of property values.
Since the last time that we met on April 21, 2011, I must alert you to the actions that have taken place on Quadra and Cortes Islands due to the fares and the structure of B.C. Ferries. I mentioned to you then in anecdotal terms how this ferry entity is effecting our families and our businesses and how it is negatively impacting job creation on the islands. I also provided you with a stack of letters written by residents that were directly effected. You also received a barrage of emails from residents telling you the same message.
I have since had some graphic, real-life examples of the effect these hardships are having on our island families and our economy. We have now lost more than a dozen young families, with children, to Vancouver Island. They cannot afford the ferry fares. We have also lost at least four businesses that employ numerous people both part and full time year-round. All of these people have stated that they are moving to Vancouver Island because they cannot afford the ferry fares. So, in the three months since we last met, we are losing dozens of young people and children and dozens of jobs. This is all avoidable.
To come right to the point, the solution to this unending, unlivable situation, the ferry system needs to be taken back into the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to accurately reflect what it really is: it is our coastal highway, no different than any other highway in this province. The ferries provide the opportunity for settlement of the islands which has brought economic prosperity to the province for many years in the way of job creation and revenues derived from property taxation for highways maintenance and capital costs, schools, hospitals, libraries, policing and local services. This is an undisputable fact. Islanders pay a portion of all highways costs throughout the province and they also are asked to pay for the disproportionate cost of maintaining the marine highway all on their own. This inequity can be easily resolved by declaring the ferry system for what it is: the marine highway as an extension of the rest of the highways in the province. Take it back into the ministry and treat it no differently. This may seem simplistic, but it is the right thing to do.
I applaud the action taken by Premier Designate Clark in putting families first in all decision making. This situation affects families: new families, young families, aging families. No one can afford to pay the exorbitant cost of ferry travel as it has evolved since 2003. We are losing our young families to other less expensive places to live. These are our workforce and our future. Our aging demographic cannot afford to have our youth leave the island due to ferry costs. Our school population has gone from 300-plus in the 1990’s to under 100 at present. Young families cannot afford to take their kids to swimming lessons, skating, hockey, gymnastics, a movie, or a meal out due to the extra added cost of the ferry on top of the other costs. My daughter takes her four year old daughter and her baby daughter to Campbell River weekly to attend gymnastics and it costs her over 26 dollars for each trip (and that is the 40% discount rate on the Experience Card) on top of the cost of the classes. She is trying to run a home business, while her husband works at the local grocery store and they are barely making ends meet. They are seriously considering moving due to the cost of ferry fares alone. This is a personal story and I have provided you with a file of letters from others with similar stories from both Quadra and Cortes Islands. These are real people being negatively impacted by a system that should never have been removed from the highway system. This present system has a serious effect on all families in the islands.
As far as business is concerned and the effect on job creation, our biggest employer on the island, Walcan Seafoods, is looking into barging their fleet of 52 foot semi-trucks directly from their plant to Campbell River. They ship at least five or more trucks a day to the big island with fresh farmed fish from the surrounding fish farms. This will be a substantial loss to the ferry system in revenue and it is being caused by ever rising ferry fees. Numerous truck drivers will be negatively impacted by this move. Product from the islands in the way of farmed shellfish, fresh fish and other commodities are being shipped daily and yet the producers are not able to increase their rates at the same pace as BCFS. Most restaurants serve shellfish products from our islands. I am sure that you have seen them on menus throughout the cities and across the country. Yet these producers are being driven out of business by ferry fares. These are good local jobs that are being impacted. First nations and non-First Nations workers are being negatively impacted by these fares. Every item that is shipped to our islands goes up in price every time we are faced with another rise in rates. This is causing businesses to close. They cannot afford the overhead of living on an island and hence people are being laid off.
Our tourism industry was thriving for years with a constant rate of growth due to a lot of hard work put in by the operators and the Chamber of Commerce. This is no longer true. All of the businesses are reporting reduced bookings over the past several years and it has been stated over and over to them that it is just too expensive to get here, due to the ferry fares. Consider an RV coming from the mainland, to Vancouver Island, then to Quadra Island and then to Cortes Island. The fee is outrageous and can be demonstrated. The new structure put in place has put a huge burden on anyone towing anything behind their vehicle and BCFS will be the first to admit it. The amount of a small trailer (12’) is far more than the towing vehicle (20’)! This kind of treatment of islanders is causing us to lose business, lose jobs and hence lose families.
As I stated earlier, the solution is simple. The ferry service must be treated as any other highway in BC. It must be taken back into the Ministry of Transportation where it belongs if we are to maintain vibrant, diverse and productive communities with a place for families of all ages and compositions and where job creation is only limited by the creativity of the people that populate the islands.
On a very personal note, I realize that this would be a very bold move by your government, but it is the right move and will be welcomed and applauded by every islander and every visitor to the islands. It was my hope that when the new Premier Designate won the leadership that we would see some sweeping new changes. She has started that by putting families first and all of the other good things that she has done. This is one change that you can help her implement and it will become the legacy of the new Premier and you as Minister.
reaction to presentation to Blair Lekstrom
Comment by Pat Lowes on 21st July 2011
Thank you Jim!
Comment by annieofthenorth on 21st July 2011
I just read Jim's "Presentation to Blair Lekstrom".
It is fantastic. I just hope someone is listening to our representative in this matter. It seems like they have not listened to us as indivuals, so maybe the government willl listen to Jim, backed with his big pile of letters from us.
Thank you Jim!
The fares have been very hard on our business, almost as hard as being forced to wait for 3 hours to get back when on a busness trip to the big Island.
Let's all hope that Mr. Lekstrom can hear our rep.