BC government not backing down from BC Ferries cuts despite strong opposition

BC government not backing down from BC Ferries cuts despite strong opposition

Transportation Minister Todd Stone says the BC government is going ahead with nearly $19 million in cuts to BC Ferries despite widespread opposition from BC residents.

The province confirmed it will be cutting minor and northern ferry routes, and implementing changes to major routes, beginning in late April. “Better alignment of service levels to the demand, while protecting basic levels of service, is necessary to ensure a coastal ferry service that’s affordable, efficient and sustainable for future generations,” said Stone.

This includes massive cuts to service on the north and central coast, most notably the disappearance of Route 40 as we know it. However, the government is claiming that service to Bella Coola will actually increase as they plan to sail the Nimpkish three to four times per week, up from the usual one.

Executive Director of the Tourism Industry Association Ian Robertson said that the government’s proposal to partially service the route with the much smaller vessel, the Nimpkish, is not an attractive solution for tourists and is no substitute for Route 40 service.  “That ferry can only carry 16 vehicles and 130 passengers. It has no lounge and passengers will be limited to the open deck or sitting in their vehicles for the approximate 8-hour journey,” said Robertson.

Tourism groups, both locally and provincially, have reacted with disdain to the Nimpkish plan, saying it is absolutely no substitute for the Queen of Chilliwack. The Tourism Industry Association of BC has stated that ‘the elimination of the Discovery Coast ferry service (Route 40) will have major consequences for the tourism industry and communities throughout the province.’

“Our industry is extremely disappointed with the news that this ferry service is being discontinued,” said Ian Robertson, Executive Director. “The ‘circle’’ route connecting Vancouver, Port Hardy, Bella Coola with the Cariboo Chilcotin is one of BC’s most scenic journeys that attracts tourists from around the world.”

Industry officials also point out that the devastating effects of the cancellation will be felt across the province, in many different sectors. “The timing of this announcement couldn’t have been worse.  Tourism operators in these regions have been receiving bookings for the 2014 season for months, and now they will have to be cancelled,” continued Robertson. “This decision means that they will definitely lose revenue and jobs, and many may lose their businesses. We were hopeful that there would have been more meaningful collaboration and dialogue with the government on how cutting this ferry service could have been avoided.”

This lack of dialogue has been met with much frustration as the government has refused to budge on their decision, despite a costly ‘consultation process’ that was supposed to collect and consider community input. Some critics are calling the entire process a sham.

“It’s clear to me that the consultation process was a sham. The people were asked to come out and provide their input and opinion into the government’s plans. They were completely ignored,” said NDP MLA Nicholas Simons.

Indeed, the Community Engagement Report indicates that 63 percent of respondents strongly disagreed with the government’s plan to introduce gambling aboard the ships, and 64 percent strongly disagreed with the plan to reduce the Seniors’ discount. The government announced last week that it will be pursuing its plan for slot machines and cutting the Seniors’ discount.

Several editorials have been penned on the topic lately, with one author claiming that the cuts to Route 40 are the start of a new ‘War in the Woods.’ As travel writer Michael McCarthy wrote in The Vancouver Sun, “the government in Victoria still pays little attention in 2014 to Bella Coola or any similar small isolated towns in the Interior or the North Coast dependent on tourism.”

McCarthy proclaims that these cuts are really just a smokescreen to hide a much more ominous plan. “Much bigger forces are at play. Any study of ferry cuts to remote tourism destinations such as the Great Bear Rainforest or Haida Gwaii reveals a similar pattern,” McCarthy writes. “Wherever small tourism businesses clash with the powerful interests promoting mining, oil, forestry, fracking and natural gas plants, political decisions have been taken at cabinet level to reduce or even eliminate promotion of B.C.’s wilderness tourism.”

The government insists the changes announced last week are necessary to protect long-term ferry services. It will release specific details of route changes in late March and implementation will begin in late April.