Edwin Grieve commends his fellow members of the coastal regional district chairs (CRDC) for raising concerns about the ferry system in recent meetings with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mary Polak and with Opposition MLAs.
But he says the ferry situation is a “never-ending story” that has been played out over the last two years, first with former MOTI minister Blair Lekstrom and now with Polak. The latter expects service cuts but said there will be no more funding available this year, and probably none in 2014, according to a news release from CRDC chair Colin Palmer of the Powell River Regional District.
Last year, Lekstrom announced the Province would commit an additional $79.5 million over four years to BC Ferries to reduce pressure on fares.
“It’s a matter of where the ferry system is going, what the long-term vision really is,” said Grieve, chair of the Comox Valley Regional District board. “According to Gord Macatee, the ferry commissioner, he doesn’t think they’ve got one; they don’t have a strategic plan. They don’t have a long-term plan for capital replacement.”
The CRDC, which represents 70 per cent of B.C.’s population, also discussed the Ferry Consultation and Engagement summary report with Polak. The document summarizes input from an eight-week public consultation process in the fall.
Grieve notes the negative impacts on tourism in the wake of rising fares and decreasing ridership. Visitors are looking at a “small fortune” if they want to bring a motor home to the Island, for instance.
“What we’re trying to convey to the Province is that this is an essential marine highway for the coastal and Island communities. It impacts not just on our quality of life but the economies as well,” Grieve said.
He notes the owner of Thrifty Foods has said how much freight bills alone will add to the average shopping cart on the Island.
Grieve finds it odd that taxpayers have no problem building highways and “shiny new bridges” but liken ferries to a cruiseship line.
He also notes BC Ferries was spun off from being a Crown corporation into a “quasi-independent company that is owned by the Crown,” which puts them at arms length from government books. But with coming replacement costs, he said the company has to borrow on the open market.
“They’re not taking advantage of the government rates,” Grieve said.
Over the next few years, he said the estimated cost to taxpayers is $30 million a year in the difference in interest.
In a separate meeting with Opposition MLAs Maurine Karagianis (Esquimalt-Metchosin), Claire Trevena (North Island) and Nicholas Simons (Powell River-Sunshine Coast), the chairs each expressed their views on the ferry system’s effects on their regions.
If the NDP forms the next government, the MLAs said they would like to make significant changes in operations of the coastal ferry service, as they are dissatisfied with high fares affecting local economies.
Karagianis said a thorough review of the Province’s finances is needed before any actions could be put in place.