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General News · 28th October 2011
Ralph Nursall
The report in Tideline (19 October, 2011) of the meeting with the Ferry Commissioner on Cortes Island, 17 October, by Ester Strijbos, listed the Six Principles of ferry operation set out in the Coastal Ferry Act (2003). That prompted me to send the following letter to the Ferry Commissioner (cc. to the Deputy Commissioner & Claire Trevena, MLA), with suggestions for a more appropriate set of principles to guide ferry operation.

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25 October, 2011
Dear Mr Macatee,

Previous commitments making it impossible for me to attend the meeting with you on Cortes Island, Monday 17 October, 2011, I read with interest the report of the meeting that appeared in the Cortes Tideline, our local internet news source. I am told, by people who were present, that the meeting was well-attended, interesting, and largely positive.

The Tideline article emphasized the Six Principles to protect "public interest" set out in Sec. 38 of the Coastal Ferry Act (2003). That was very clear-sighted of the reporter, for these principles as stated are absolutely antithetical to the public interest of islanders – as has long been recognized by islanders. Let me point out why, principle by principle:

1. Surely the first priority of a ferry service is to provide regular, safe, affordable interconnection between locations in the province, so people can go back and forth, as they require clothing, medical service, automobile service, groceries, licences for this and that, insurance, family connection, time in the woods, dental work, eyeglasses, reunions, building materials, courtship, marital advice, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, advanced training, the occasional meal out and/or time at a cinema or concert or museum, funeral services, a political meeting, a ski trip, the services of a lawyer, to get access to or from a commercial airport, chiropractic help, and so on, and so on! To have a ferry system operated for the benefit of the ferry operator is a travesty of public service.

2. It beggars the imagination to consider that a community's ability to take part in the life of British Columbia should depend on the commercial requirements of a boat-owner. Islanders are participants in the progress of the province. They should not be thought of as some sort of unwelcome outsiders, to be tagged and dunned in order to move about. Ferry service is public service, for which we pay taxes, such as for the road to Ashcroft or Bella Coola, or the ferry between Balfour and Kootenay Bay. I have no objection to my taxes being used for the universal benefit of citizens, residents and visitors to the province, if I am included!

3. Am I to believe that the BC Ferry Services Inc. has been active in seeking additional or alternative service providers on designated ferry routes? Are they striving for fair and open competition?

4. Why not say: ferry operators are to be encouraged to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of operation in order to improve the regularity of service and increase the timeliness and comfort of travellers between BC island destinations. As the population grows and changes, schedules should be modified to increase operational periods and improve connections as required.

5. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this "principle" is that, in the eyes of the current government, the routes Tsawwassen/Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen/Duke Point, and Horseshoe Bay/Departure Bay are some sort of cruise lines, to be kept uncontaminated by little, old, "minor route" ferries. Whether or not that be the case, it makes not one iota of difference to the case for the "minor route" ferries being a marine extension of the provincial highway system which enables BC residents to connect, communicate and contribute to one another. If the Ferry Company shareholder demands extraction of the maximum profit from the cruise lines, then let them separate and do their thing. The "minor route" lines continue to bring people together in their daily occupations and requirements, and to transport goods and services back and forth, in the manner of highways everywhere. They are clearly a public service and demand the attention and support that the government owes public services everywhere. The "minor ferry" routes cannot achieve "financial sustainability"; no one will pay $150.00 for a round trip to Campbell River from Cortes Island. And until the toll we pay for use of the wet road drops back to about 25-30% of the current rate, or less, ferry usage will continue to decline. But, I dare say, that if the toll were modest and minimal, and the schedules modified and elongated as needed, traffic would jump and, once again, we would hear prideful comments about "Our BC Ferries!" The contribution of the islands to the economy of the province would rise again in its manifold way.

6. I suggest that: the designated ferry routes are to move away from reliance on a user pay system, so as to allow, as soon as possible, the government to resume its fiduciary role in support of public service.

These represent my considered opinions, backed by considerations of economics, sociology, history, geography, politics, common sense, and experience. I believe it to be more important and beneficial to the well-being and development of British Columbia, for all the residents of the province and their visitors to be able to move about as freely as possible, to make use of the diversity of BC, to visit and to attend to business, to exchange the bounty of the province and to disperse it as widely as possible, than for a corporation to try to make money by penalizing those who live and work on islands.

Respectfully submitted,

J. R. Nursall