General · 3rd October 2014
The BC Liberals’ incompetence regarding BC Ferries seems to know no bounds, as recent events have shown.
Just over one week ago the Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone, publicly trashed a report which showed the economic impact of 12 years of neglect of the marine highway and of sky rocketing fares has cost the province $2.3 billion. He also insulted the elected officials at the Union of BC Municipalities who had commissioned the long-overdue report.
I responded with an open letter in which I expressed my concern that the minister would so completely and comprehensively dismiss the findings and provide no solution for the more than a million British Columbian individuals and businesses who rely on the coastal ferry system. The minister has not yet answered my concerns.
It was heartening to see the unanimous support at the recent UBCM convention for the report and its recommendations. Those reaffirm the organization’s desire to have the ferry system included as part of the Ministry of Transportation. They also ask for the recent cuts to be rescinded and fares scaled back to 2013 levels while discussions take place between the UBCM and the Ministry over how best to fix the very broken BC Ferries system.
The minister disagreed with those ideas and in a news conference after meeting regional directors from coastal communities said that the government would not stop next year’s scheduled 4-per-cent fare increase and it would continue to be looking for “efficiencies” in the system. To be clear, in the minister’s letter, “efficiencies” means yet more cuts.
Then the next day, in an exclusive chat with the lower mainland radio station, CKNW, the minister then threw out the idea that BC Ferries be paid for by the gas tax returned to those municipalities in coastal communities. It’s as if the minister either wants to just pile on the insults or really has absolutely no concept of the provincial economy.
Gas taxes have been used to pay for transportation successfully in many jurisdictions. But despite what the minister suggests, that cannot be done in isolation. Once again he has shown ignorance at how interrelated are our provincial economy and our provincial infrastructure. He forgets that the ferry system serves not only coastal communities, but that those coastal communities serve many other parts of the province. What the UBCM report highlighted so well is that the ferry system is as important to the economy of Golden as it is to Gold River, to Pemberton as it is to Parksville.
The impacts of the BC Liberal mismanagement was quantified in the UBCM report. It is being lived daily in our communities as people deal with impossible schedules and unaffordable fares. There are few places where you notice the impact as greatly as Haida Gwaii and the North and Central Coast. The cuts to service have left the ferry running from Prince Rupert to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii just two times a week starting in September. This sudden shift to a winter schedule has meant tourism operators have lost their shoulder season, effectively losing two months’ trade. And for locals it makes life tenuous: it’s almost impossible to schedule a medical appointment on the mainland without having to stay for eight days because of the turn around. People are fearful about when winter sets in and sailings are cut. When you just have two sailings a week, supplying you with all your produce and supplies, the loss of one of those sailings because of weather will really hit hard.
The minister and his government simply do not understand what their mismanagement of our ferry system, our marine highway, is having on our economy and the direct daily impact the lives of British Columbians. These cuts and constant fare hikes hurt business, communities and individuals.
As the official opposition spokesperson on Transportation and BC Ferries I am looking forward to getting back into the Legislature in October, to try to get the minister to address reality and treat our coastal ferries as an equal part of the province’s infrastructure.
Claire Trevena, MLA
New Democrat Spokesperson for Transportation and Infrastructure, B.C. Ferries, B.C. Transit