Perhaps officials of B.C.’s Transportation Ministry and BC Ferries Corp. actually thought their public consultation tour would wring the last input from coastal residents to its recently announced service cuts.
It’s beginning to appear that was merely an opening salvo.
In the past week, local governments and MLAs from both the Liberal party and the opposition New Democrats have lodged a series of formal requests that the decision to axe the Discovery Coast route, linking Port Hardy with Bella Coola, be reversed or at least postponed.
“Mayor and Council urge the Ministry of Transportation and BC Ferries to delay implementation until a full socio-economic study can be completed,” read a letter submitted by the District of Port Hardy Nov. 28.
The letter expressed solidarity with 16 coastal Chambers of Commerce, the Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce and the Heiltsuk First Nation in the view that BC Ferries “fails the test of fiscal fairness and discriminates against rural coastal communities … .”
The letter also cited a study comparing BC Ferries with the Washington State ferry system, compiled by Vancouver Island North MLA Claire Trevena, the NDP opposition critic. Trevena’s “Washington State Ferries Fact-Finding Tour” report, issued the same day as the District of Port Hardy’s letter, provides some damning numbers.
While the Washingon State ferries carry 22 million passengers to a comparable 19.9 million for BC Ferries, Washington has 43 managers drawing $5.4 million in salary and bonuses compared to the 615 managers earning $64.6 million for BC Ferries.
Trevena is careful to note a number of mitigating factors and contrasts between the systems, and says a copy-and-paste of the Washington template is impractical for the B.C. coast. But her bottom line is that Washington recognizes coastal ferries as part of its highways system, and they are managed and funded as highways. This is not the case in B.C.
It is one thing for a remote District council and an opposition MLA to raise questions. But Minister of Transportation Todd Stone also heard last week from fellow Liberal MLA Donna Barnett, who represents Cariboo-Chilcotin and who insisted the route 40 cancellation be reversed, at least for 2014.
When the ministry and BC Ferries announced the service cuts, they insisted they wanted to hear from the public. The question remains, are they listening?