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Occupy movement focuses on ferries

Demonstrators express frustration by gathering at Westview terminal
Occupy movement focuses on ferries

by Kyle Wells   VIDEO    – Residents of Powell River and members of the Occupy Powell River group gathered at BC Ferries’ Westview Terminal on Monday, December 12 to protest high ferry fares, poor service and the private ownership of a public service.

Around 20 people were gathered by about 10 am on the grassy area on the Wharf at Westview, holding banners and encouraging drivers to honk their vehicle’s horn in support as they boarded and departed ferries. Signs read “Ferry Fares Fair?” and “Free Our Ferries” and a large “Occupy Powell River” sign stood beside an information canopy.

One of the demonstration’s organizers, Daniel Adaszynski, said the fare hikes and service cutbacks inspired him to get involved. While there are multiple ideas on how to go about doing it, Adaszynski said that most in the group agree BC Ferries needs to be returned to being a government service and not a private corporation.

“The whole point is that we come together and talk about what it is we want and what we demand and it’s lower fares, higher subsidies and a return of the ferry system to the ministry,” said Adaszynski. “I have a part-time job but I can’t afford to go across the water right now. I just don’t have the money for it and the fares are too high.”

Participants said support seems high for the cause. Leaflets were available for anyone interested in learning more about the issue and organizers were on hand to discuss the cause.

“The ferries is just such a clear example of how a decision made far, far away is going to impact us hugely,” said Adaszynski. “There are hunters saying they can’t afford to go hunting anymore, there are family members saying they can only visit their daughters or their grandmas once a year when they used to be able to see them four or five times a year.”

The demonstrators plan to have a presence at the terminal until April 1, 2012, the day that BC Ferries’ performance term three begins. The fare increase for the first year of the term has been set by the government at 4.15 per cent in order to allow time for BC Ferries Commission’s review of the Coastal Ferry Act. Originally, the commissioner approved an increase of 8.23 per cent annually for four years on minor routes, including those serving Powell River.

Powell River resident Gary Olsen said he attended the demonstration because he would like to see the Coastal Ferry Act dissolved and the ferry service returned to a government-run service. He said the change is necessary for a variety of reasons but pointed to the effect high fares have on tourism as one example of their negative impacts.

“Tourism is one of the few sustainable, or somewhat sustainable, industries that we have left and this is just choking tourism off for us,” said Olsen. “For the people that live here it’s just adding a lot of unnecessary financial burden.”

Theresa Jensen said the demonstration reflects a desire for transparency in the corporation and its various offshoots. Many of the demonstrators spoke of the confusing nature of the system which involves BC Ferries Services Inc., the BC Ferry Commission, the provincial government, BC Ferry Authority and an appointed board of directors. She said the system should be held accountable for the stress that it is putting on the community.

“We call it the price of living in paradise,” said Jensen. “We do live in paradise and it is worth every penny that we pay but we don’t need to be beat up. We don’t want it shut down because of greed.”

BC Ferries reported that apart from two demonstrators at the Departure Bay terminal no other demonstrations took place on Monday, December 12. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the corporation had no comment on the demonstrations.

Occupy Powell River group has been growing and organizing since its formation in November and organizers are preparing to host its first public meeting sometime in January. Meetings are currently held at 7 pm on Tuesdays south of town. For more information, interested readers can visit the Occupy Powell River Facebook page.