Next protest to hit whole B.C. coast

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
January 24, 2014 01:00 AM

Sechelt Indian Band Chief Garry Feschuk addresses the crowd at the Sechelt rally on Jan. 18.

With local-government support for the BC Ferry Coalition's Tell the Premier protest pouring in from Haida Gwaii in the north to the south end of Vancouver Island, lead organizer Jef Keighley said the stage is being set for a B.C.-coast-wide day of action.

And it's not just coastal communities that are up in arms about the runaway fares and deep service cuts announced for April 1, Keighley said at Saturday's rally in Sechelt.

Plans to totally cut the 39 annual trips between Port Hardy and Bella Coola that are part of the Discovery Coast Circle Tour, in order to save $725,000 per year, will put $10.7 million in tourism revenue at risk, he said.

So it's not just coastal communities. Cariboo-Chilcotin is outraged at what is happening.

In fact, he said, Cariboo-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett has broken party ranks and spoken out against the cuts.

Compared to other routes, Keighley noted, Route 3 (Langdale to Horseshoe Bay) is the least damaged of all, and yet it's going to cost jobs here because we have a lot of people who are shift workers.

Under the province's service reduction plan, Route 3 will lose 40 round-trip sailings, or 1.3 per cent of all trips.

By comparison, Gabriola Island is set to lose 834 round trips (14.5 per cent), Denman Island's two routes will lose 888 (14.4 per cent) and 422 (9.4 per cent), and northern routes will lose between 27 and 35 per cent of their sailings.

The Powell River area is especially hard hit, with Route 7 (Earls Cove to Saltery Bay) losing 365 round trips (12.7 per cent), Route 18 (Texada Island to Powell River) losing 834 trips (23 per cent) and Route 17 (Comox to Powell River) losing 94 trips (6.4 per cent).

Cory Carr, a Powell River Chamber of Commerce director who helped organize Saturday's rally at the Westview terminal, agreed that momentum is building, as the public learns more about the inequities in the province's transportation system.

I think a lot of people are just getting onboard with the same message, Carr said. It impacts you directly, no matter who you are. Once the public knows the truth, they get onside.

Proof, he said, is in the fact that the Westview rally, which he estimated drew between 500 and 600 people, materialized without a ton of effort, without a ton of marketing.

The Powell River Chamber's fiscal fairness campaign has found support with more than 20 chambers across the province, including some in the Interior, he said.

Sliammon Nation Chief Clint Williams said in the wake of high fares and reduced sailings, some Powell River residents and businesses could leave the community, making the situation even worse.

With the Powell River economy shrinking, it means the services in the town are starting to shrink, so that makes us more dependent on the ferries, Williams said. The impacts are hugely felt up here. It's not cheap to get people to Powell River.

Because of their absolute dependency on the ferry system, he said, one goal of both Powell River city council and the Sliammon Nation is to secure the provincial government's acknowledgement that the ferries are our highway.

On the Lower Coast, meanwhile, Gibsons resident Stephanie Clarke is urging passengers to stage a hunger strike by boycotting onboard food services on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, to send a message where it counts, at the till.

Clarke, who launched the ferryhostage.com website about two years ago, said the boycott would draw attention to the fact that coastal communities are starving under the current BC Ferries system.

If we can impact sales on those days and they see the difference on the other days, it will be easier to measure the effectiveness of our action, Clarke said in an email.

She said her intention was to provide something a little more cheeky and marketable so that it interests people enough to get involved.

Keighley said the hunger strike is not an initiative of the BC Ferry Coalition, but added that Clarke should be commended for her interest in putting pressure on the government.

The coalition's website is www.bcferrycoalition.com.


© Coast Reporter

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