Representatives of ten coastal Ferry Advisory Committees (FACs) met with BC Ferries’ management this week to learn how government proposes to help communities refine the planned $14 million service reductions announced last November. Gabriola FAC Chair John Hodgkins, a member of the recently formed Gabriola Ferry Service Advisory Group, confirmed that the outcome of the meeting set new challenges for ferry advisors who had been asking since early December for more information to help communities develop alternative options.
FAC Chairs heard after the meeting Tuesday that no further figures would be released by government or BC Ferries as the information would “typically not be provided under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act”. The news broke by email from Assistant Deputy Minister, Kevin Richter, while the meeting was still taking place. FAC Chairs were not impressed. Ferry Advisory Committees had been given no advance notice that government would be handing over the task of negotiating with BC Ferries to review schedules to minimise damage to coastal communities. Government has spent more than $1 million on professional consultancy and made no effort to consider social or economic impacts. Now they expect community volunteers to take the flack. “That’s rich, even for this government” said Hodgkins.
Not surprisingly, some FACs were undecided on whether to take on the task at all, while others (including Gabriola and the Northern Sunshine Coast) have formed alliances with other community representatives to strengthen their ability to engage with their communities.
Monday’s meeting with BC Ferries brought no new information to the table, so now we have to consider the best way forward, said Hodgkins. BC Ferries have been given a clear direction by government – continue working towards implementation of service cuts on April 1, 2014. “We either engage with the corporation now, or we will likely miss the opportunity to have any influence over the outcome” warns Hodgkins.
Transport Advisory Commission Chair, Steven Earle, said “In effect, the government is inviting us to a round of blindfolded target practice. They want us to make suggestions for alternative solutions, but aren’t willing to give us the information needed to determine if our solutions will meet their savings objectives. Then they’ll inform us we’ve missed the target.”
Advisory Groups insist that government has to allow more time for local consultation to be completed. “Rushing through cuts on April 1 will be devastating for ferry-dependent communities” said Hodgkins. “We know that BC Ferries have already drawn up some alternatives, so now we must bring our own ideas to the table and share those with our local community without delay.” Ferry Advisory Committees are committed to seeing the process through – albeit reluctantly – and advisory groups now have to decide how best to take that forward.
Gabriola FAC and the Islands Trust have called upon government to delay any changes to ferry services for at least six months to limit the damage to island economies and tourism, and to provide adequate time for communities to give consider possible alternative solutions.