Premier Christy Clark stole the show when an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people descended on the B.C. legislature grounds Tuesday for the Defend Our Marine Highways protest against BC Ferries service cuts and fare hikes.
Clark did not appear in person at the rally, but a video clip of Clark from her 2008 CKNW talk show, presented by Strathcona Regional District chair Jim Abrams, brought home the same message that protesters came to her doorstep to deliver.
"B.C. ferry fares have finally gotten so high that for every dollar they raise it will actually garner less in revenue," Clark said in the six-year-old clip, where she blasted the transportation minister of the day for his "insatiable appetite" to fund highways and for "providing free ferries on inland lakes in B.C., but he doesn't seem to have the same affection for our maritime highway on the coast."
Of all the speakers at the rally, said Jef Keighley of the BC Ferry Coalition, "the virtual premier" said it best.
"It was jeers and hoots and hollers. It was unquestionably the highlight of the rally. As Jim said, the premier makes the case better than we do," Keighley said.
Sunshine Coast Regional District chair Garry Nohr said Clark was expressing "exactly what everybody was saying" at the rally.
"I was just walking away when that was broadcast, but you could hear it everywhere. It was actually unbelievable," Nohr said. "It comes back to haunt you, so to speak."
While some media reported the turnout to be in the hundreds, Keighley estimated the crowd swelled to 2,000 strong during the lunchtime peak of the two-hour event, and Nohr said that estimate tallied with his observations.
Nohr said the protesters, despite their frustration with the province's ferries policy, were "very controlled" and the rally was conducted professionally.
"The signs were very creative. It was kind of funky and reminded me of the '60s and '70s - the hootenannies -with Valdy from Salt Spring Island, and each island seemed to have their own singers," he said. "As a spur of the moment activity, it was the best rally I've seen in a long time."
Keighley said about 60 Sunshine Coast residents made the trek to the capital, while the lion's share of protesters came from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
"The enthusiasm was great," he said. "The breadth of the speakers and people coming out was really good."
Speakers included federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, Islands Trust chair Sheila Malcolmson and Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, chair of Metro Vancouver board, along with business, labour and community representatives.
The NDP caucus also attended the event, and Powell River - Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons delivered more than 2,200 petition signatures to the legislature after the rally, most of them collected on the Lower Sunshine Coast.
Keighley said the rally was successful in getting the message out to tens of thousands of British Columbians who were not aware of the inequities in the province's transportation system and the devastating effects that service cuts and escalating fares have had on coastal communities.
Total infrastructure spending in coastal communities, he said, represents only six per cent of infrastructure spending in the province - while coastal communities make up 20 per cent of the population and produce 35 per cent of the wealth.
"That's astounding," he said. "I'm not talking about six per cent on ferries. I'm talking six per cent of total infrastructure spending."
Echoing Clark from 2008, Keighley said the projected $14 million in savings from service cuts won't materialize because the number is based on a false assumption that the same amount of passengers will ride the ferries despite fewer sailings and higher fares.
"They're saying the revenue will go to other sailings, but that's not true. A lot of their alleged savings won't happen," he said.
Reduced sailings on BC Ferries' 16 minor and northern routes will start on April 28, while both a 50 per cent cut in the seniors' discount and four per cent general fare hike will take effect April 1.
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