The Baynes Sound Connector leaves Denman Island en route to Buckley Bay. Record file photo

Comox Valley school board wants consultation before ferry cuts

Province provides some funding for discretionary sailings over summer

The board of education for School District 71 wants to hear from BC Ferries before any more changes to ferry schedules, particularly to runs serving communities on small islands.

Trustee Janice Caton brought up the issue at the final board meeting of the school year in June.

“BC Ferries were once again talking about reducing the ferries between our islands,” she said.

She said this has happened without consultation, and as a result members of the local ferry advisory committee resigned in response in June.

RELATED STORY: BC Ferries Advisory Committee members resign following cuts to Denman, Hornby ferry service

“This is not the first time BC Ferries has decided to consider reducing the ferries between Hornby and Denman,” she said.

Trustee Sheila McDonnell added that one of the reasons for the resignations was that the changes had been proposed a few months earlier but the schedule was only presented to the advisory committee members, without consultation, after a decision had been made. She said the lack of consultation was not simply an issue with school officials but with communities as a whole.

“It really felt like quite a slap in the face,” she said.

Caton explained a number of families with children in the school district live on the islands. She said the Province had allocated millions of dollars to stop the proposed cuts, but the ferry service is losing money and looking at further ways to reduce costs. Her motion asked the board to write a letter to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Education and the president and CEO of BC Ferries to ask that any changes to the ferry schedule be delayed until proper consultation takes place with education authorities to make sure these do not adversely affect any students’ educational opportunities. The motion to write the letter passed unopposed.

Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries executive director of public affairs, told The Record that BC Ferries had to make a tough decision in mid-June as it was losing almost a million dollars a day because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These sailings were ones above the contract requirements with the Province, she added.

At the board meeting, Caton also asked the board to include a paragraph to express dismay and dissatisfaction over the fact that this was not the first time changes have taken place without consultation. She added it would affect communities in other school districts, such as Quadra Island or Cortes Island.

“It will have an impact not only on the Comox Valley but several other districts,” she said.

Board chair Ian Hargreaves pointed out the Province has provided money to prevent schedule cuts as of June 18, but Caton said this is only a temporary infusion of funds, and that they can expect the cuts again in the fall.

Marshall confirmed the Province did agree to provide funding for these sailing runs over the summer.

“BC Ferries and the Province of B.C. worked collaboratively to add supplemental sailings to the summer schedule,” she said. “We thank the Province for funding these discretionary sailings.”

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