Premier Christy Clark and the new minister responsible for BC Ferries will get an earful at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention next week, if local government leaders on the Sunshine Coast have their way.
Hoping to ward off expected cuts to the coastal ferry service, a delegation of chairs and mayors from all ferry-dependent communities will meet with the premier and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone during the convention, Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) chair Garry Nohr told members of the transportation advisory committee on Sept. 9.
And in an effort to put greater pressure on the provincial government, the committee voted to ask the heads of ferry-dependent communities to also hold a press conference during the convention, spelling out the potential impact of cuts on coastal economies.
“The only way to respond is to make this a media issue,” said District of Sechelt Coun. Doug Hockley, who suggested the press conference. “To me, pull the pin on the grenade, throw it under the table and see what happens.”
Hockley pitched the idea after the committee heard from Nohr that Stone had declined a requested meeting with a Sunshine Coast delegation during the convention, which runs from Sept. 16 to 20 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Last month, the province announced it was hiring a consultant to develop “a route-specific ferry adjustment plan to ensure the sustainability of the ferry system.” Public consultation on the plan, which is intended to save $19 million by 2016, is scheduled for November and December.
Barry Cavens, chair of the southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee, brought his request for a needs assessment to the Sept. 9 transportation meeting, “so we go into these hearings with expectations of what we want as a community.”
But Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar said the process was “mystifying,” after last year’s round of public consultation on the issue.
“We attended all those meetings,” Shugar said. “It was clear that people of the Sunshine Coast had a vision that this is part of our highway system and the province had to recognize that.”
“I don’t think the government learned from that process,” Cavens said.
“In other words,” Shugar said, “they didn’t get the answer they wanted.”
Nohr, who said it was obvious to him from the start of the consultation process last year that “it was pre-programmed,” called for a constructive approach, rather than to “react and bitch about it.”
“I think we have to go with a view to saying what we’re prepared to do to keep costs down and how they can possibly do a better job,” Nohr said.
One idea, he said, is to propose that BC Ferries offer a family package, with three or four trips at a reduced rate, from October to May.
“That alone would bring hundreds more people over,” he said.
Hockley, however, expressed skepticism about the provincial government’s willingness to listen.
“I’ve been hearing this for 16 years. Nothing’s happening,” Hockley said. “They don’t care what their cutbacks mean. They’ve already decided. This is just tokenism.”
West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull agreed.
“We’ve had a huge lack of response here,” Turnbull said.
The issue, Hockley said, “needs to be blown up to the press so it ends up on the table of politicians.”
In response to Cavens’ call for a community needs assessment, directors agreed that the southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee should develop a proposal and that Cavens should present it at a future SCRD infrastructure services committee meeting.