It is just one year since the government announced brutal cuts to the ferry system, at the same time it said it would charge seniors, and let fares continue to rise well above the rate of inflation.
And the anniversary was marked by more compelling evidence that shows how badly the B.C. Liberals have handled our ferry system. The week started with a report that revealed how tourism in the Chilcotin has been devastated by the gutting of route 40 and the introduction of the small, 16 vehicle Nimpkish to serve the Bella Bella to Bella Coola run.
At a news conference hosted by Opposition leader, John Horgan, and myself, a representative of the West Chilcotin Tourism Association spoke about the economic impact on businesses in the region, many of which are facing closure because of the decline in traffic. This summer alone, cuts have cost the region $3.3 million in economic activity and $3.9 million in tourism revenue. While the B.C. Liberals said they were aiming to save $725,000 annually by cutting the Route 40 service, the study showed a loss of $870,000 in municipal, provincial and federal taxation in 2014.
When we asked the Minister about this in Question Period he continued to try to defend the indefensible and talked about vague notions of sustainability. Outside the Legislature he tried to discredit the report as he did the September Union of BC Municipalities study on the impact of a dozen years of ferry mismanagement.
As we know, those dozen years of the quasi-private operation of BC Ferries has led to skyrocketing fares as well as service cuts and figures released this week show that ridership is down to its lowest levels for more than 20 years. And the Minister has dismissed this report too. One simple thing he could do to start dealing with fares would be to remove the fuel surcharge on each ticket given the plunging cost of oil.
For the next two and a half years it is the BC Liberals responsibility to clean up the mess they have created for our ferries. But looking at their track record, that’s unlikely to happen. I keep getting asked, “what would the NDP do?” Simply put, if the NDP forms the next government, we’d make sure that BC Ferries becomes part of our transportation infrastructure. It is both of our highway system and our transit system and needs to reflect that. I have said many times that the current Coastal Ferries Act, which created the monster with which we live, would have to go and a new framework established.
I spent much of the week working on the committee stage of the Container Trucking Act. This legislation is intended to improve relations between truckers and Port Metro Vancouver by establishing an independent commissioner who will be responsible for licenses for truckers to operate at the ports and rates paid.
On another, more local, but very important transportation issue, I’ve been talking with the Ministry of Transportation about road markings, particularly the so called fog lines – the white lines at the side of the road. The season for line painting is over and the budget was very small but I highlighted specific areas where there are real concerns and will push for more adequate funding for this simple, essential safety measure.
Some of the white line problems were caused by digging to lay the fibre optic cable to Port McNeill. While internet service in parts of the North Island has been improved, I continue working on how to improve cell and broadband access in other areas in the constituency. I had a meeting with those in charge of programmes in Victoria to push to translate government pledges about connectivity into reality.
There is a great deal of concern about the future of Port Hardy and Port McNeill emergency rooms. I have had a lengthy discussion with senior executives at Island Health and they have assured me that there is no intention to close either emergency room. The Health Authority is trying to find new ways of both attracting and training doctors and other medical staff for our rural communities and I have said that I will do what I can to assist including following up directly with the Health Minister. High quality healthcare is fundamental to our community wellbeing.
I would like to congratulate everyone who ran for civic elections across the North Island, whether for school trustee, councillor, regional director or mayor. Civic engagement is important for our communities and for our democracy. I look forward to working with all those who were successful and hope those who were not successful continue to stay involved in their communities.
In the Legislature we questioned a decision on the Lower Mainland to stop flu shots for seniors. After one question, the Minister backtracked and said that those preventative shots would continue – but has since done nothing to make sure that happens. As an aside, the Office of the Seniors Advocate is setting up a council of advisers. This will be a volunteer organization made up of seniors from around the province to raise issues from their communities and from their own experience. The council will also review projects, reports and recommendations developed by the Seniors Advocate. Applications have to be in by 18th December. The application form and details can be found at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca. Interested seniors can also get more information by phone at 1-877-952-3181 or email at email@example.com.
I will be back in the constituency over the weekend, where, among other things, I will be on the picket line with locked out USW 1-1937 workers at Chances in Campbell River. We’re then back in Victoria for just one more week before the session ends.
I can always be contacted by email: Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at my Campbell River office: 250-287-5100; Port Hardy office: 250-949-9473 or toll free at 1-866-387-5100. And you can friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.