A meeting organized by Colin Palmer, chair of the Powell River Regional District, between coastal regional districts and Blair Lekstrom, minister of transportation and infrastructure, took place on July 19 to discuss concerns over BC Ferries.
A total of nine regional district chairs met with the minister in Vancouver to voice concerns over escalating ferry fares and the negative impact these fares bring to communities that depend on ferry services.
The idea stemmed from conversations with Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee chair Bill Cripps and the regional district. Palmer sent out an email to representatives of nine other regional districts, that use BC Ferries’ services, to invite them to take part in the meeting. From those nine districts, seven chairs and one vice-chair took part, including representation from Metro Vancouver and Capitol Regional District which includes Victoria.
Palmer said at a recent regional district committee-of-the-whole meeting that, aside from turning up overdressed for what he thought would be a far more formal gathering, the meeting went well.
Each chair had five minutes to state to the minister their concerns and opinions on behalf of their region before Lekstrom had a chance to respond. Lekstrom commented to the group that the projected increases of about eight per cent per year to minor ferry route rates is unreasonable and impossible.
“Everybody agrees that the [Coastal Ferry] Act is flawed, it’s not working,” said Palmer. “And if something significant isn’t done then all that we and the government can expect is huge price increases on the fares...If they don’t do something about it and if we can’t make recommendations to do something about it, it’s going to be a political and social and family and business disaster.”
While no immediate answers came from the meeting, none were expected. Palmer said that he called for the meeting with the intention of being heard and that with that many regional boards taking part he believes they achieved that goal.
Palmer said the route of concerns over costs of BC Ferries stem from the Coastal Ferry Act itself and that something needs to change at that basic level. One option suggested by the consortium is to have BC Ferries considered to be a part of highway services so that it would receive the same funding and attention as highways. Another recommendation was to establish a system of oversight for ferry services.
“We either get rid of the act and come up with a new model,” said Palmer, “or if we do recommend changes to the act, boy, they’ve got to be significant, they can’t be minor.”
The regional board representatives met among themselves before their 45-minute meeting with Lekstrom. They met afterwards as well and made a commitment to work together as a group to continue the discussion over BC Ferries.
Next, the group will be meeting with BC Ferries Commissioner Gord Macatee in Victoria on Monday, August 8. A meeting with Premier Christy Clark along with Lekstrom is being organized. Palmer said he believes the group will have to decide on a position and on specific recommendations before they meet with the Premier.
“We can’t just go around whining all the time,” said Palmer. “We’ve got to actually work on a common agreement as to what we’re going to recommend.”