Weiler ‘hopeful’ ferry bailout will keep planned infrastructure projects afloat

Liberal MP Patrick Weiler said he hopes relief money announced for BC Ferries could allow the company to move ahead with infrastructure projects that BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins said as recently as two weeks ago were on hold.

“One of the biggest things that was a worry for me and for many other people was what not having access to this funding could mean for planned infrastructure upgrades,” Weiler, the MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, told Coast Reporter following an Aug. 11 funding announcement for BC Ferries.

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“I’m very hopeful this will help mitigate the concern of purchases of ferries being put off, of planned terminal upgrades – including ones where there is federal skin in the game, like the $17-million investment in the Langdale terminal.”

Federal and provincial ministers jointly announced Aug. 11 that BC Ferries would qualify for bailout money through the Safe Restart Agreement, announced July 16. Under that agreement the federal government is putting up $540 million, which will be matched by the province.

It’s unclear what portion of that money will go to BC Ferries, and Weiler said that decision will be up to the B.C. government and could come as soon as September. The money is meant to provide support for six to eight months from the time of the agreement announcement in July.

Announcements have already been made about delayed capital projects, however.

On July 28, Collins said the Langdale terminal upgrade project has been put on hold and so has year-round, two-ship service for the Sunshine Coast because revenue losses due to COVID-19 have curtailed the company’s ship-building plans.

“Even the four ships we were proceeding with are now on hold because of the financial situation,” Collins said during a meeting with Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce members.

To date, BC Ferries is projecting 2020 revenue losses of $130 million.

But Weiler described the relief funding as a “piece in the puzzle” to mitigate the risk of delays. “The last thing that people want to see is when you have a company trying to move capital expenditures into operating to cover for losses,” he said. “We need more ferry service rather than less and that’s only going to be more true in the future,” he said.

The funding is “certainly not going to be a silver bullet to alleviate, especially, the summer crunch issues. There’s going to be other measures that will have to be taken by BC Ferries [and] by the province to address that long term.”

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