B.C. Liberals’ cuts to ferries threaten our health and livelihoods

B.C. Liberals’ cuts to ferries threaten our health and livelihoods

Jennifer Rice is the NDP MLA for the North Coast

With their rich resource wealth, northern communities are helping B.C. prosper. But the B.C. Liberal government isn’t returning the favour. Instead, their devastating cuts to ferry services show how little they know or care about real life on the North Coast.

We learned last week that B.C. Ferries will dramatically scale back three northern routes, and cut a fourth. Though there are cuts to ferry services all over the province, the deepest cuts announced to date are happening on these northern routes. Here, we will see cuts of up to 32% to the ferry system that serves as our coastal highway.

A decade of mismanagement at B.C. Ferries has meant fares have skyrocketed by as much as 85 per cent on so-called minor routes, ferry ridership has decreased, debt at the corporation has ballooned, and executive compensation has remained stratospheric. After a decade of watching these problems escalate and failing to make a plan to address them, now the Liberal government wants you to believe that their only option is to scale back services that people on the North Coast depend on.

Yet the week before they announced these cuts, the government also announced that they had scaled back bonus payments at B.C. Ferries. But they didn’t mention the fine print, which revealed that executives and managers will still receive their hefty bonuses, only they would now be rolled into their pay. The truth is, these callous cuts are a quick solution when this government has failed to make the real, long-term changes – like scaling back executive compensation – that will get B.C. Ferries back on track.

While the Liberal government may see the cuts to northern routes as simple accounting, what they don’t seem to see is the real impact of these cuts on our communities. They don’t see that people here will now have an even harder time accessing groceries they can afford, or making it to doctor’s appointments. Already, difficult ferry schedules mean that people here spend far too long travelling to and from appointments – further delays could mean they opt to not make the trip at all. This could lead to delays in getting treatment when they need it, or attempts to make do with food that is less nutritious but more readily available. Or, worse still, it will force people to leave our communities altogether.

The Liberal government also seems unaware of the effects these cuts will have on our livelihoods. While cancelling the Port Hardy – Mid Coast – Bella Coola ferry route may look good on a balance sheet, it will be devastating to tourism operators in Bella Coola Valley who depend on the circle route that that ferry completes. These operators have done everything right – they have distributed advertising, printed brochures, and built their businesses here in good faith. Now, they will face a significant loss of business because of a government that didn’t stop to consider the consequences of its cuts.

Leonard Ellis, president of the Bella Coola Valley Tourism Association, pointed out the announced cuts are “having very negative spinoffs on our client base, who obviously cannot book their trips for 2014.”

Ironically, the businesses that stand to lose the most from these cuts are the ones that have brought significant business to B.C. Ferries in the past. Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, for instance, was responsible for $20,000 of direct business for the corporation last year. General Manager Tim McGrady calls the decision to slash services to the North Coast “a real blow to our business, the community and region.”

I am proud to represent the people of the North Coast. We are small business owners, free enterprisers, and job creators. As the Liberal government has often admitted, we are the economic engine of the province. But we need basic, reliable transportation to keep our communities healthy and prosperous. But the Liberals have ignored our voices. Instead, they are only “consulting” with our communities after announcing their decisions.

It is wrong to remove resources from our coastal and rural communities and strip us of the infrastructure we depend on to thrive. The Liberal government may think North Coast communities are not worth fighting for, but people here know better. We don’t share their ghost-town vision for our communities. Please join me in telling the B.C. Liberal government that cuts to northern ferry routes will undermine our hard work and the future of our communities. Let’s tell them to go back to the drawing board and come up with a real solution to the problems at B.C. Ferries, not more quick, callous cuts.

Jennifer Rice is the NDP MLA for the North Coast Constituency. She represents coastal communities spread out over 66,000 sq. kilometres including Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii and central coast communities, many of which are only accessible by ferry or seaplane.