Local government leaders from ferry-dependent communities made substantial progress when they met last week with Premier Christy Clark at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Vancouver, Sunshine Coast Regional District chair Garry Nohr said after the event.
“I believe it was a breakthrough,” Nohr said in a Sept. 18 phone interview.
Chairs from 13 regional districts had attended the 20-minute meeting with Clark on the previous day, and “the discussion was pretty open,” Nohr said.
“The premier said they’ve looked at the issue, are concerned about it, and all agreed we’re past the tipping point for raising fares,” he said. “She didn’t commit, but said fares shouldn’t be raised any higher.”
Also at the meeting, Clark appointed MLA Jordan Sturdy to confer with the regional district chairs prior to the next round of consultations on possible ferry service cuts, scheduled for November and December.
“He’s been assigned to work with the chairs to see what goals can be achieved to come to a solution,” Nohr said, adding that Clark “seemed really willing to get things going.”
Sturdy, the rookie MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, serves as parliamentary secretary to Transportation Minister Todd Stone.
Nohr said the tone of the meeting was upbeat.
“The only comment I made — and I don’t think she liked it — is if we’re going to have consultation, let’s make sure it isn’t predetermined,” he said.
The meeting with Clark followed a meeting, also lasting about 20 minutes, between Stone and the delegation. During the meeting, Nohr was one of four chairs to speak on issues affecting coastal regions due to high fares and other problems with the ferry system.
“What the chairs want is for ferries to be looked at as our highway system,” Nohr said. “It keeps repeating. That’s where we’re at and we can’t back away from that position.”
The next step, he said, is for the chairs to meet and discuss options and suggestions from each community.
“It’s got to be reasonable. I don’t think it’ll go very far if we get silly about it. We have to give them some real idea of how to improve ferry use,” Nohr said.
Clark’s office confirmed Nohr’s account of the meeting, but spokesman Ben Chin stressed that Clark had made no commitment on fares.
The coming round of public consultation is intended to hammer out “a route-specific ferry adjustment plan to ensure the sustainability of the ferry system,” saving $19 million by 2016.