The whole length of the Sunshine Coast will become the staging ground next month for a massive protest against planned BC Ferries schedule cuts and fare increases.
“It’s important we communicate this to the rest of the province — how important this is,” Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) chair Garry Nohr, one of the rally organizers, said in an interview Tuesday. “They have their roads; we have a marine highway.”
The plan is for protesters to line Highway 101 at nine separate locations between Gibsons and Earls Cove for one hour starting at noon on Saturday, Jan. 18.
Participants are being asked to bring personalized letters to Premier Christy Clark, which will be collected by SCRD directors at the nine gathering spots along the highway.
The protests will be set up at Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Wilson Creek, Sechelt, Halfmoon Bay, Madeira Park, Garden Bay Road, Ruby Lake and Egmont Road.
The event will focus on the Sunshine Coast, but will be part of a broader outreach to other coastal communities hit by planned service cuts.
The goal, said co-organizer Jef Keighley, chair of Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens, is to “help build the Coast-wide movement that will be necessary to convince the province to get off their dead-end path with their quasi-privatized BC Ferries corporate model.”
“We’re not fighting only for the Sunshine Coast,” Route 3 ferry advisory committee (FAC) chair Barry Cavens affirmed. “We’re fighting for the whole system.”
Nohr said he has already contacted other regional district chairs, who have expressed interest in coordinating events, and shíshálh Nation Chief Garry Feschuk has offered to work with other First Nations on Vancouver Island and the mainland.
“There’s not a single community that isn’t completely aghast at what’s going on,” said Keighley, whose group is trying to build a “fair ferry coalition” by rallying support from labour councils, churches, sports organizations, local government bodies and Chambers of Commerce for the Jan. 18 Sunshine Coast event.
With the province announcing planned service cuts prior to consulting affected communities, Cavens said it’s imperative for the public to take a stand now.
“If that goes through without any challenge, it opens the door for other cuts in the future,” he said. “People want a say. Most people are not unreasonable, but they want to be treated fairly.”
Nohr, Keighley and Cavens all agreed that fairness means the province conducts genuine needs assessments of coastal communities before making any schedule changes, and that the government assumes BC Ferries’ capital and financing costs, which would lower fares significantly.
“No one’s asking for free ferries,” Keighley said. “We’ll pay the operating costs through reasonable fares.”
While calling the consultation process “a joke,” Nohr said the province’s top-down approach led to one positive result: “Before this, all three of us were working independently for different reasons with different groups. This has brought us together.”
Other ideas being considered for the coastal campaign include petitions, selective boycotts of BC Ferries sailings or onboard services, and coordinated rallies in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo.
Meanwhile, Nohr and Cavens plan to travel on the 6:20 a.m. Sunday ferry from Langdale in coming weeks and they invite passengers to share their views on the province’s plan to cut the round-trip sailing during off-peak season.