Locals footing the bill for ferry service cuts

An open letter to Premier Christy Clark from a discontented local resort owner.

Dear Premier Clark:

I am dismayed and angry about the operation of BC Ferries and its negative impact on the B.C. coast and the tourist industry I’ve been involved in for 36 years.

B.C. tourism got its start during the Social Credit years. W.A.C. Bennett’s government bought Black Ball Ferries because having control of the ferry systems was paramount to his vision of the future of the B.C. coast. The Super Natural B.C. brand became known around the world.

Wherever in B.C. you drive on roads built during the Social Credit years you find beautiful campsites, picnic sites, and signage of the local attractions that made us proud to be part of this great province. Yes, we had resorts on Okanagan beaches and neat tourist areas in Vancouver and Victoria, but “Super Natural” was the number one draw for visitors from around the world. In most of the promotions there was B.C. Ferries front and centre. Travelling on a B.C. ferry was something everyone looked forward to.

In 1978 a highway from Campbell River to Northern Vancouver Island was completed and the Queen of the North terminal was moved from Kelsey Bay to Port Hardy. At once we had plenty of opportunity for tourist related businesses. Hotels were built, campsites and RV parks were opened, fishing lodges and charter companies were established. Because of that highway and connecting ferry to Prince Rupert there were other job opportunities besides logging, fishing and mining.  The North Island boomed.

My wife and I developed a fishing resort at the old sawmill town of Telegraph Cove, at the western end of Johnstone Straits in 1979. Shortly afterwards we bought the old boardwalk town and started rebuilding and preserving this unique symbol of the B.C. coast. At the same time we started our project, two local families leased a workboat from the Cove mill and started a freight business and the first whale watching company on the coast. Today this little village of a few people is known world-wide, synonymous with whales, bears, and salmon in a “Super Natural” setting of fantastic scenery, clean water and abundant wildlife.

The sports fishermen once filled our RV park, cabins and marina, and supported the stores and restaurants in Port McNeill. They didn’t mind the ferry waits or the fares that were charged in those years. They knew they were having a great experience at a fair price. Now our campground and RV Park are never full. The cost of ferries is the number one reason they don’t come to Vancouver Island.

How did a ferry system that the citizens of B.C. were once so proud of become the object of scorn that is today? Instead of a great experience to show what a marvellous coast we live on, and an engine to drive more access and development, it has turned into an expense for a government lacking vision of how valuable this ferry system can be.

The Ferry Corporation does not have the knowledge or ability to grow the business to keep up with the ridiculous salaries and other costs it incurs. It tries to remedy this by cutting sailings to reduce costs. The result is disastrous for our coastal businesses and citizens. Our resort is one of the many picking up the bill for this mismanagement.

We have just witnessed the signing of an agreement between First Nations, forestry and government covering a massive area of the coast from Knight Inlet to Prince Rupert. Here we have something that is the envy of the world and has the potential for so much ecotourism, yet we do not have an access system that will allow visitors to view this majestic area.

The closing of the ferry between Port Hardy and Bella Coola without proper consultation is reprehensible. There is so much more at stake here with the closing of this route than a lot of visitors being treated terribly and some tourist facilities being put into bankruptcy — it is the reputation of this province and how it values its coastal communities and visitors from abroad. This is a terrible attitude to a 13 billion dollar industry.

Premier Clark you must intervene in this debacle immediately and I suggest four things that must be done to start the road to recovery;

•Reinstate the Bella Coola schedule and implement meaningful consultation with the stakeholders;

•Order an in-depth investigation to discover how the BC Ferries went from the pride of B.C. to the mismanaged non-productive corporation it is today;

•Select a knowledgeable Minister of Tourism with a separate Ministry of Tourism. A 13 billion dollar industry should not be lumped in with a lot of other mini-ministries;

•Acknowledge that the BC Ferries is a part of the highway system and act accordingly. Alex Fraser, Minister of Highways under Premier Bill Bennett negotiated this with the federal government.

As Liberal supporters and free enterprisers, proud of what we have done at Telegraph Cove and its contribution to tourism on the coast, we ask you to intervene to bring order to this chaos.

Gordie Graham

Telegraph Cove Resorts

 

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