They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.
That was the message for Premier Christy Clark on Saturday as an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Sunshine Coast residents lined Highway 101 at seven locations between Langdale and Earls Cove to protest BC Ferries service cuts and fare increases.
“This is an issue that for the first time in my living memory is uniting people who voted Liberal, who voted New Democrat, who voted Green, who voted Conservative or who didn't vote at all,” organizer Jef Keighley told the crowd at the Sechelt rally, the largest of the seven, which drew an estimated 500 people.
“It's bringing together business people, it's bringing together labour and community groups, local sports organizations, local governments, seniors — it is uniting everybody in the communities that are affected,” Keighley continued.
“So our message to send back to Christy Clark is get off the pot, put this on hold, listen to the population, because coastal communities represent 20 per cent of the total B.C. population and we generate 35 per cent of the economic growth in the province. We deserve to be listened to.”
Sechelt Nation Chief Garry Feschuk said the coming 50 per cent cut in the seniors' discount would hit Elders hard.
“They went through a lot when they were growing up in the residential school era, and now being Elders they had a benefit of being able to travel the ferries for free on Monday to Thursday,” Feschuk told Coast Reporter. “Now that's gone, and coming from that era they really don't have anything.”
The fare hikes and service cuts are also hurting families and sports teams, and jeopardizing economic development in areas like tourism, he said. “We're starting to delve into the tourism industry now and this will have a huge impact.”
Addressing the crowd, Feschuk said he agreed the issue was the provincial government's brand of “consultation, when everything is predetermined,” and drew applause from the mostly non-Native protesters when he added: “Sometimes I chuckle, because now you know how we feel.”
Other speakers at the Sechelt event included District of Sechelt Coun. Alice Lutes, who said, “In my mind if there's no protest, there's no progress,” and school trustee Lori Dixon, who brought letters for Clark from both herself and her husband, former chief Stan Dixon.
“Because we live in the most beautiful place on the Earth, we shouldn't be penalized for it,” she said.
Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) chair Garry Nohr said more than 100 people turned out at the north end of Redrooffs Road in Halfmoon Bay.
“It's quite surprising in Halfmoon Bay how many walked out, because some of them could hardly walk,” Nohr said. “It's affecting them and it's the seniors that seem to be coming out.”
About 200 people rallied at the Langdale ferry terminal, lining both sides of the highway to catch the arriving ferry traffic.
West Howe Sound SCRD director Lee Turnbull and Gibsons Coun. Lee Ann Johnson both urged the protesters to keep making their voices heard and former Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce president Jim Cleghorn said coastal communities are united in “lobbying the government until we get some solution that is sustainable and affordable.”
At the Sechelt rally, Keighley pointed out that since BC Ferries was transformed under Gordon Campbell from a Crown corporation to a quasi-private entity 10-and-a-half years ago, inflation in B.C. has gone up 14.9 per cent.
“In that same timeframe, depending on what route you're looking at, the minimum increase in ferry costs was 50 per cent and some routes went up as high as 93 per cent,” Keighley said. “So when you're talking about this three-and-a-half per cent fuel surcharge, we have paid that and paid that and paid that already.”
Parallel demonstrations were held in Powell River and Gabriola Island.
Watch for more coverage in Coast Reporter's Jan. 24 print and on-line editions.
— With files from Ian Jacques