RDN Candidates Q&A: Water Taxi, and Protocol Agreement

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, October 3 2018

Vanessa Craig and Howard Houle, the two candidates running to represent Gabriola, Mudge and DeCourcy on the Regional District of Nanaimo Board, were asked questions this week involving the water taxi question. Candidates were also asked about the Protocol Agreement between the Islands Trust (IT) and the RDN.

Water Taxi

Go with the assumption that the Islands Trust and BC Ferries all signed off and approved of the use of the Descanso Bay emergency wharf for use by a commercial water taxi company. Assuming there was a commercial water taxi operator willing to run that as a business model. Would you be willing to go to either a referendum or AAP to seek taxpayers’ approval to open the dock up to that use?

Craig: Yes, I would be willing to consider going to a referendum/alternate approval process (AAP) to address this issue after additional research was completed on the potential costs of expanding the use of the dock.

When Area B residents voted on the wharf bylaw in 2003 we voted to pay for its construction and annual maintenance costs through taxes. 

Interestingly, the wording of the referendum bylaw we voted on did not specify emergency use, referring solely to “wharf facilities”; therefore, a broader range of uses fits in with the current bylaw wording. 

As a first step, I would request a report on the changes required to broaden the usage of the wharf and any associated costs. It’s possible the wharf may not require renovations for this expanded use. The decision of whether to move to a referendum or use an AAP would depend on the costs required to adopt the wharf to that usage, and the most cost-effective manner of assessing community support. If a referendum was necessary, then I would look to find an opportunity to minimize costs, perhaps by combining it with other opportunities to consult the community.

Houle: If the Islands Trust, BC Ferries and the Province all signed off and the people of Gabriola are consulted then we could consider going to referendum The original referendum was for an emergency evacuation wharf and passed by 76 per cent in favour. When the community votes for something and we want to change that down the road we need to go back to them and ask again. There would be a tax increase as the dock would be open to all water taxi operators or we could do it selectively by contract. The new dock would need safety features like handrails and maybe a loading ramp, and because a public dock comes with liabilities the cost would be on the local taxpayers. This may also add to the parking problems that are now around the ferry.

Follow-up: if BC Ferries truly is intending to go to a two-ship system for Gabriola in a couple of years, meaning there would be a sailing leaving Gabriola every half hour instead of every hour, do you think the demand for a water taxi to operate from Gabriola to Nanaimo will still be there?

Craig: With more frequent ferry service to downtown Nanaimo it’s likely overall demand would decrease. However, it is difficult to answer this question because the demand for a water taxi service will depend entirely on the service offered. The challenge to the water taxi operator will be to offer a service for a price that is attractive to residents or visitors. 

Houle: I wonder if the commercial water taxi would be needed in the future? If we are to receive two, 47-car BC ferries with about 30-minute service, would water taxi service be required? Perhaps the 12 midnight to 5:00 a.m. timeframe could be covered by the commercial water taxi service.

Protocol Meeting

Rather than depend on staff to make requests and schedule meetings between IT and RDN each year as part of the protocol agreement - would you see there being a need to schedule a specific date each year for an IT-RDN staff/elected officials meeting?

Craig: The protocol agreement between the Islands Trust and the Regional District of Nanaimo calls for an annual meeting for these important and overlapping layers of government to review issues of common interest. 

It is unfortunate that, despite the Islands Trust staff repeatedly requesting a meeting for the last three years, no meeting has occurred. I think it’s essential that if we elect three local representatives that they speak to one another. 

In a situation where our representatives are committed to working together, I do not think it would be necessary to schedule a specific date each year for a meeting, because the representatives would ensure it would occur. 

Certainly, if I am elected I will follow-up proactively with staff and our Islands Trustees to schedule a meeting. 

However, where there is a lack of a collaborative commitment, it’s important to ensure that the meetings still occur. Therefore, I agree that it would be useful to identify a specific month in which the meeting should ideally occur, which will allow some flexibility in scheduling based on staff and our elected representatives’ commitments.

Houle: I would be in favour of having a fixed date for a protocol meeting, but it would need to have some flexibility. The meeting could be moved if something needs earlier consultation or, if there is nothing that is in need of attention, we could move the meeting month forward. With that change this may help with scheduling staff and elected officials’ time to be at these meetings. 

This past summer a protocol meeting did not happen because of a scheduling problem with RDN staff. I believe this would be a good change and (by the time the Sounder is on stands) this topic will have been brought up at the Electoral Areas Service Committee on October 2 to see what can be done.