Premier John Horgan extolled the virtues of the BC Ferries system during a visit to Powell River on Friday, April 12. He said the ferry system is important to Powell River and to coastal communities.
Horgan, in Powell River to speak at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention about a range of issues, said it is important “to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come with respect to the ferry system in the short time we’ve been in government.”
“As a born and raised Vancouver Islander, ferries have always been important to me,” said Horgan. “The ferries took me on many a trip, whether it be for sports or for visits to family or friends. I’ve worked in Ocean Falls, and the only way into Ocean Falls back in the day was either on a very expensive airplane or the BC Ferries.”
Horgan said the ferries are critical to coastal communities, they are critical to people and they’ve had a profound impact on his life.
The premier said to have the opportunity to be premier, and work with BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins and the ferry advisory committees, to reinvigorate the people part of the equation is very satisfying.
“It’s really exciting for us to bring back 2,700 round trips for people in coastal communities, many of them right here in Powell River,” said Horgan.
The premier indicated there has been tension between coastal communities, the ferry system and government over the past few years, and he’s not convinced that the end has arrived, but Collins and he are going to work as hard as they can to make sure that is the case.
“BC Ferries are critically important to coastal communities, they are critically important to all British Columbians, and I’m very proud to take some modest steps in the first year and a half of our government in working with BC Ferries, working with coastal communities,” said Horgan. “I’m confident we can make the system even better going forward.”
While introducing Horgan, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said the premier knows, as all do, the importance of ferries to coastal communities, not just socially, but economically as well.
“I wanted to say how pleased I was that we rolled back fares 15 per cent, which brings them back to 2011 rates,” said Simons. “We’ve restored the seniors discount; we’ve restored some ferry services. That only happens because of a good working relationship between our government and BC Ferries, with the important influx from communities."
“As we know, from the recent announcements on the Coastal Ferries Act, we are restoring public interest as part of the governing strategy for BC Ferries,” he added.
Collins said BC Ferries has been trying to redefine its relationships with communities.
“We no longer think of transportation, we think of connectivity,” said Collins. “It’s about connecting coastal communities together and with other parts of the province so they can live the lives that they want to live and achieve the aspirations they want to do. The work is ongoing and there’s a lot of work ahead.”
Collins said in the last 10 years, in the Powell River area, BC Ferries has invested more than $200 million in infrastructure.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements.”
An example of that is the replacement of the North Island Princess vessel for the Powell River-Texada Island route.
“If you look at her you can see she’s one of our veterans, from 1956, even older than me,” said Collins. “Her replacement arrives in October; we have a couple of months of training and she’ll come into service in January . We’re very excited by that and it’s a complete revitalization of the infrastructure up here.”
Kim Barton-Bridges, chair of the Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee, said her committee has worked with BC Ferries for the past few years and had reinstated some sailings that have now been made permanent, in addition to some sailings that were lost in 2014.
According to a media release, newly added round trips include 218 on the Saltery Bay-Earls Cove route and 85 on the Powell River-Texada Island route.