Opinion

Navigating a NEW course: A Nimpkish Narrative

The Nimpkish is set to be replaced in 2018 - Submitted
The Nimpkish is set to be replaced in 2018
— image credit: Submitted

Now that a new course has been charted for ferry service on BC’s Central Coast (with the Premier’s September 6 announcement), four stories stand out.

First, the Central Coast IS INDEED getting an enhanced summer ferry service slated for the 2018 tourist season. That’s not “two years away”, as many complain. It’s only one more season of the Nimpkish “connector” via Bella Bella – and we’ve already suffered through three seasons since the chokehold on the marine link of the Discovery Coast Circle was tightened. Three down – and only one to go.

This service was marginal from the start. Right after it was instated by another government 20 years ago to bolster the failing economy and serve the transportation needs of the Central Coast, BC Ferries (BCF) tried to deep-six it. In spite of the government’s feeble effort to keep it afloat, BCF kept whittling it back until an unsuspecting rookie Transport Minister was convinced to pull the plug three years ago.  Who considered the economic repercussions of sinking Route 40 and replacing it with the “Connector” employing the tiny “MV Skimpish”, the “toy in a fjord”?

A second story is the one told by the jaded newspaper columnists and cynical, frustrated tourism operators and community leaders and residents all along the coast and across the Chilcotin - those voters who recognize good electioneering for what it is: While the BC Liberals can’t count on reeling in many more votes next May from the socialist hordes on the BC Coast, they should rightly be concerned about losing what should be a solid riding in the ferry-free BC Interior. That would be an embarrassment at least.

The Opposition in the House, particularly our MLA and the Ferry Critics, did well to swarm aboard like so many pesky horseflies, swashbuckling their way along the ferry decks, but to little avail.  Furthermore, the vital contribution of the Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA might be seen as “politically expedient”. But she nobly bucked her own government to champion a cause that she knew was not only politically expedient, but also THE RIGHT THING TO DO.  The Premier is the first to recognize her MLA’s tenacity in getting the right thing done.

Politics and cynicism/skepticism aside, a third story here is about the Premier’s role in charting the new course for the Central Coast ferry service.  By taking over the wheel at the helm, the Captain/Premier helped her Transportation Minister turn his little boat 180 degrees, claiming that a strong provincial economy, rising BCF revenues, the low Canadian dollar, and the resulting huge boost in tourism this year has enabled the government to pursue transportation improvements as a means to enhance the economy of the Central Coast.

Her Minister, entrenched from its launch in his “commitment” to the foundering “Connector” service - claiming at every turn that his decision to dry-dock Route 40 was “tough”, and that he was “reaching out” to the tourism industry and communities - had a lot on his mind when he announced his decision, barely five months into his job:  A transportation infrastructure crumbling in places, mega-bridge construction proposals, 28,000 km of roadwork, the need to pave parts of Highway 20 even though (he claimed) the traffic didn’t warrant it.  There was also the headache of Translink.  (The relief must have been tangible when that headache was taken away with last year’s cabinet shuffle!)  At the helm, the Premier expressed her confidence that the new course for the Central Coast was in her Minister’s capable hands.  Now, THAT’S PRESSURE.

After all, her Minister had “survived” a cruise to Ground Zero (Bella Coola). He had seen “the grizzly bears and orcas”, and he had “met with folks there”.  (He HAD met with folks: three individual folks, not the community – as he implied.)  By taking over the wheel, the Premier might save him from walking the plank.

The biggest story however is the PPP.  Not the “Public Private Partnership” that business-obsessed governments tout as the be-all-end-all of financing what should be public services.  No, this PPP is the POWER PROVIDED BY PARTNERSHIP.  When the tourism industry and affected communities teamed up with the First Nations concerned, like a formidable armada emerging from the mist, a Group coalesced that was impossible to resist:  The head of the provincial Aboriginal Tourism association (now heading the NATIONAL Aboriginal tourism body), joined the long-time head of a tourism association encompassing an area from the Outer Coast to near the Rockies, from Yale to near Prince George. Together they assembled a Working Group that included elected representatives from communities stretching from Northern Vancouver Island to the heart of the Cariboo.  Their economic case was such a “no brainer” that they had no trouble at all recruiting the heads of the BC Hotel Association and the Tourism Industry Association of BC – along with the head of Canada’s leading tourism broker who brings billions of foreign dollars into Canada annually. Clearly, the government’s mismanagement of its uninformed, poorly timed, short-sighted decision to scuttle Route 40 showed BC was unreliable as a tourist destination.  After all, European travelers don’t need to come to the Great Bear Rainforest.  Thailand, Nepal, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands (Third World though they might be) have a more reliable tourism transportation infrastructure than the one provided on our Central Coast by the BC government.

Recognizing that Partnership Provides Power, The Group teamed up with the local Nuxalk and Heiltsuk First Nations, the stewards and guardians of one of the most pristine, unspoiled eco-tourism destinations on Planet Earth. Peoples here since Creation and not about to leave anytime soon.  Peoples who have been struggling for generations to heal the wounds of history in a cultural revival that recognizes tourism as a vital plank in an economic vision for the Central Coast.

The Group reminded the Premier of her recent declaration protecting the Great Bear Rainforest.  Additionally, their case involves the fabulous and many-storied “Chilcotin Ark” (as in Noah’s Ark – a survival vessel protecting a region unparalleled for its scenic grandeur and biodiversity – a land without limits). It also involves expanses of ocean, islands and glacial fjords, deep coastal valleys, wooded plateau, three mountain passes, rainforest, desert: in all, 11 eco zones that make up a Circle Tour: a bucket-list trip of a lifetime unequalled in British Columbia and the envy of folks the world over.

Finally, the Group told the Premier that developing an economic vision DEMANDS recognizing the role of First Nations along this coast - where the oldest human footprints in the Americas punctuate its rocky shore.  Failing to do so, they said, “would be like promoting Egypt without mentioning the pyramids”.

It is no wonder that the Premier, faced by such a Group with such an argument, recognized them as “THE GAME CHANGER”.

Early on, the government pledged to form a “working group” to provide advice on mitigating the damage done by the decision to scrap BCF Route 40. The Minister in charge at the time reneged on the pledge, saying it would be “unfair” to send her staff into “hostile territory”. Nonetheless, ditching the hostility overboard, and that Minister being shuffled overboard last year, a Working Group assembled itself in spite of the government’s failure to carry through on a promise that would have helped to mitigate the damage done.

It now appears that the little boat will soon be soon sailing off into the sunset, and those involved in rocking the boat can now happily say to those “in charge”:  WELCOME ABOARD!

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