General News · 11th December 2013
Ferry service cuts will be devastating, coastal communities tell B.C. Liberals
In meetings that will wrap up Wednesday evening, people in the coastal communities affected by the Liberal government’s ferry service cuts have exposed these cuts as reckless and short-sighted, say New Democrats.
“Unlike Transportation Minister Todd Stone, I attended many of these events, as did my fellow MLAs,” said New Democrat ferries critic Claire Trevena.
“We saw overwhelming frustration in these communities – frustration at a process that has not given them a say in decisions that will impact the future of their communities, and frustration that this Liberal government seems not to understand the long-term economic implications, or even the short-term human implications, of these cuts.”
In an editorial published last week, Stone noted that he sees these cuts, which will mean the end of 7,000 round-trip sailings per year, as an “opportunity” for private sector companies, unlike “some” who “may choose to see these reductions in service provided by B.C. Ferries as a negative.”
“People in ferry-dependent communities have shown up in droves to tell the government that cuts to their coastal highways aren’t ‘opportunities’ for anyone – not the women in Bella Coola who could lose their breast cancer screening program, not the tourism operators on the cancelled Discovery Coast Passage Route who could lose their livelihoods if the cuts go ahead, and not the kids on Denman Island who will have to give up extra-curricular activities they can no longer get to,” said Trevena.
“Basic business management would have ensured that these cuts were informed by economic impact studies; good planning would have made sure to look at the social impact on these communities. Without these measures, these cuts are irresponsible.”
While Minister Stone described these consultations as “engaging the communities on the upcoming service changes,” people in coastal communities have called these “changes” what they really are – cuts – and told the officials sent to their communities how they feel about a government that announces its plans to the media before consulting with the people affected.
“If Minister Stone had been there to listen to what people in coastal communities had to say, he would have learned that people who live in these places will not passively accept cuts that will impact the health and future of their communities, any more than people anywhere else would accept the closure of the only highway into their town,” said Trevena.
Trevena says in the decade since the Liberal government introduced its Coastal Ferry Act, the government has accepted and endorsed skyrocketing fares, dwindling ridership numbers, ballooning debt, and egregious executive bonuses at the corporation.
“What our ferry system needs is a real plan, not scattershot cuts developed without consideration of regional or economic impact,” said Trevena.
Effects of ferry service cuts on coastal communities
While some of the long-term effects of these cuts are not yet apparent, at consultations up and
down the coast, residents of ferry-dependent communities have told the government what their
communities stand to lose today if these cuts go ahead. Here are just a few examples:
Residents of the north and central coast and Haida Gwaii, who will see deep cuts to
several routes, and the loss of an entire ferry route, fear the cuts will have a devastating
effect on regional tourism – a key industry that has supported communities after the
decline of traditional resource industries in the region. They also fear that the cuts will
have an impact on health, leading to reduced access to medical services, and on young
people who rely on ferries to get to school and access services.
Quadra Island residents say the reduction of 468 round-trip sailings will mean a loss of
arts, culture and sports events that rely on evening ferries, and an increase in the
number of ferries chartered by B.C. Ambulance Service to respond to emergencies – a
huge expense to the province.
Residents of Denman Island say the loss of 1,310 round-trip sailings will mean that high
school students who have relied on early morning ferries to get them to extracurricular
activities at their Comox Valley schools will have to give them up, and will make it
impossible for many to commute to and from the island.
Gabriola Islanders, who will lose 834 round-trip sailings, fear that professors, hospital
workers, and others who do not work regular hours will be forced to leave the community
if the cuts go ahead.
Bowen Island residents, who will lose 274 round-trip sailings, warned that cuts to early
morning sailings could drive away commuters to the mainland, and late-night cuts could
seriously impact island restaurants that rely on mainland visitors.