Opinion: Deaf ear on ferries now on the other foot

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but one of the things I keep at my desk is a clipping from the May 18, 1985 Coast News about a protest at the Langdale ferry terminal over service cuts and fare increases.

It’s an important reminder that, just as all rock n’ roll is built on three chords, all Sunshine Coast journalism is built on stories about BC Ferries.

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I didn’t write that story, but I’ve written more than a few remarkably like it since returning to the Coast in 2006 and the COVID pandemic’s impact on the ferry system has me feeling Yogi Bera levels of déjà vu.

Editor John Gleeson has already written about the efforts to change a schedule that cut off late evening sailings on the Langdale route (“Power to the passengers,” June 12). This week we’ve got stories about the outcry over the number of sailings on the new summer schedule, the province paying out an extra $180,000 to keep BC Ferries from dropping sailings on the Earls Cove-Saltery Bay run and several other minor routes, and the ongoing calls for federal help.   

There’s never been any doubt Sunshine Coasters will go to the barricades over ferry service.

People raising the alarm about cuts this time are worried that, given the financial hit BC Ferries is taking because of the pandemic, service will be rolled back to where it was after a round of cuts in 2014.

Remember 2014? Protests at Langdale, rallies in Sechelt, 2,000 people on the lawn at the legislature.

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons does.

“Ferry rallies, ferry protests, ferry petitions … and at no time were our ferry fares reduced. At no time were our ferry services increased,” Simons told me during an interview for this week’s story.

Simons, it will come as no shock to hear, said he thinks part of the difference this time is the government, his NDP, is listening.

Another echo of 2014 is the call for more federal support for BC Ferries.

After the Liberals came to power in 2015, BC Ferries was made eligible for federal infrastructure funding.

Now what BC Ferries is hoping for is help with operating costs, mainly getting access to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.

I first asked Premier John Horgan about the progress of talks with the federal government on April 22, when he said he’d been talking with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and “she heard me, she’s been very good in listening and not having a closed mind.”

Last week, nearly two months later, Vancouver Sun legislature reporter Rob Shaw asked much the same question and got much the same answer – we’re still talking.

But this time, according to the premier, “there hasn’t been a particularly sympathetic ear.”

We seem to have gone from the deaf ear being in Victoria to the deaf ear being in Ottawa.

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