Plans to stage a massive protest against BC Ferries cuts on Jan. 18 are starting to spread beyond the Sunshine Coast, one of the organizers of the event said Wednesday.
Only two days after emailing a general call to action under the banner of the BC Ferry Coalition, Jef Keighley said he was being “flooded” with responses from ferry-dependent communities — and some were already expressing interest in holding protests of their own on the same day.
Among the first to indicate interest were Powell River, Gabriola Island, Galiano Island and the North Coast.
“I think people are welcoming the initiative,” said Keighley, chair of Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens. “People recognize the need to have a common voice and a common presence. I think we’re going to see substantial buy-in.”
“We’re definitely onside,” confirmed Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa. “I think we’re going to try to find someone who will take it on and organize the community.”
Formosa said Powell River will be “hammered” if the announced service cuts are implemented in April.
“We’ve already got people who are putting their houses up for sale. We can’t exist. If this happens, all of our sports teams are done,” he said, adding that 21 Chambers of Commerce from coastal communities have agreed to join Powell River’s fiscal fairness campaign.
Keighley said the BC Ferry Coalition is calling for the provincial government to put all cuts and fare increases on hold, conduct needs assessments of affected communities, and then restructure BC Ferries based on those needs.
“At this point that’s the most logical position to put forward,” he said.
He predicted Premier Christy Clark “is smart enough to put things on hold” if the consultants’ report due in late January accurately depicts the level of anger and frustration shown during the recent engagement process.
The Jan. 18 protest, he added, will be “instrumental” in underscoring that point, through creative signage and “the volume of angst that comes forward.”
Organizers of the Jan. 18 event were scheduled to meet on Thursday to finalize locations along Highway 101 where rallies will be held. Keighley said Langdale will likely be added to the list, but one or two locations north of Sechelt could be dropped. The number of locations is expected to be between seven and nine.
The event is now scheduled to run half an hour later than originally planned — from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. — to ensure exposure to off-load traffic from ferries at both ends of the Coast.
Meanwhile, in his November report on ferry traffic, southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee member Jakob Knaus argued there was no financial benefit for BC Ferries to cut the first Sunday sailing from Langdale during off-peak season from September to April.
“The elimination does not make sense,” Knaus said, “because the average utilization of 100 passengers and 57 cars generate fare earnings of $3,293, whereas the saving on fuel is a mere $2,342, giving BC Ferries earnings of $951 per sailing. Why cut the sailing?”
In his submission at the province’s Nov. 30 consultation in Gibsons, Knaus also contended that BC Ferries could save $300,000 a year — three times the amount projected from cutting the early Sunday sailing — by charging trucks that are barged to the Coast from the Lower Mainland and return via Langdale without paying fares.