Thursday April 24, 2014

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Held hostage

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Is anyone feeling a bit neglected around the Sunshine Coast these days?

Do we feel that we donít matter and our opinions are falling on deaf ears?

We sure do.

Despite promises of consultation before any decisions would be made, Todd Stone, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, announced sweeping changes and cuts on Nov. 18 in an effort to get BC Ferries back on track.

The announcement was met with anger up and down the Coast. It made last Saturdayís public engagement session at Elphinstone Secondary School a moot point, but that certainly didnít stop the 300-plus who came out en masse to give the MOTI officials an earful.

The same scene played out in Powell River and on Texada Island. Residents are fed up, and weíre not going to sit back and take this any more. We are tired of being held hostage in our own community.

We certainly recognize that savings have to be found and the system needs to be improved, but at what cost?

What business punishes its customers and then expects them to return and support that business? How is cutting sailings, hiking fares and targeting seniors by cutting their discounts going to improve the service? People will simply stop using the ferries if they can. But the problem is, for us living on the Sunshine Coast and other island communities, we donít have that luxury. The ferry service is our highway ó our economic link to keep our community going.

A few weeks ago we were encouraged by the fact that government appeared to be listening. Regional District board chair Garry Nohr, other regional district chairs and ferry advisory committee members had positive meetings with the premier and MOTI officials. Some common ground was achieved. Then Stone pulled the rug out from everyone, announced these cuts, cancelled a planned meeting with the regional district chairs and started holding consultation sessions where MOTI officials said they were there to listen. Listen to what? Anger and frustration? Where was the consultation? Where was the question: what do you want to see happen? Instead all we got were cuts, cuts and more cuts ó and there it is, live with it, deal with it.

Well, weíre not going to live with this. The future of our communities is at stake here. What has been proposed is not sustainable and not in the slightest best interest of anyone who lives in a community that relies on the ferry system.

For a government that pledged in the last election to be all about jobs and the economy, to be about working families and ensuring a level playing field, they have a funny way of showing it. But weíre not laughing. Weíre all just angry.

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