Liberals can’t erase 15 years of ferry fears

Editorial

Tuesday, April 11 2017

This past weekend, the BC Liberals  election team sent out a press release stating that for the first time, the party is going to have a Vancouver Island platform.  As part of that platform, they are promising to develop a loyalty discount program for frequent ferry users by 2020; to introduce a tax deduction for residents of ferry-dependent communities (25% of fare values to a maximum of $1,000 from net tax payable to the Province); and to invest $1 million to improve WiFi connections on board ships and in terminals.

New flash to the Liberals. We already have a loyalty program - the Experience Card - but many of our residents can’t afford to take advantage of it because the buy-in values are simply too high. Those values are kept high by BC Ferries purportedly to keep non-locals and infrequent visitors from getting ‘the local discount’.

Regardless of whatever carrots are dangled in front of coastal communities - residents have spent 15 years frustrated with a Liberal government saying no to the coast.

The BC Government - not to be confused with the Liberal election team - announced last week that a used ferry (built in 2000) has been found. With a $15 million contribution from the BC Government, it will be purchased to expand service to Bella Coola and what used to be part of the Discovery Coast route  - that was the route axed in the cuts of 2014. Millions of tourist dollars have been lost in the associated communities in the years since the route was cut. 

BC Liberal Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training had the gall to state, “Our investment in this enhanced service will help generate additional interest in tourism along the mid-coast and throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin. This opens up access for visitors to the unique and unparalleled beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest and other tourism opportunities in the region.” Sounds a lot like the arguments used by locals in 2014 trying to save Route 40. The extra kicker - the “new” ship won’t be ready until Spring 2018, so the Discovery Coast will have to survive one more tourism season without it.

Meanwhile the Queens of Burnaby and Nanaimo have both gone on the auction block. Both ships are four times the size being purchased for the Discovery Coast, but one wonders if one of those ships couldn’t be used for one season, or free up a smaller ship somewhere else in the fleet to serve the new route, while the new ship is being prepared.

We don’t know yet what the other parties have planned for BC Ferries, and fixing the ferry system. No one’s committed to returning the ferries to the provincial highways system. 

What coastal residents do know is for 15 years fares have been skyrocketing, communities have been strangled, and we’re being shown carrots we don’t have the ability or desire to swallow.