Tuesday, April 18, 2023

MLA Rice highlights importance of BC Ferries to Northern residents; BC United MLA focuses on government's increasing hand on the service

BC Ferries made for an early morning topic on the first day back
for MLA's at the Legislature following the Easter Break

The topic of BC Ferries services made for some of the current of conversation in the Legislature on Monday morning and for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, the discussion provided an opportunity for some past history on the state of the service for North Coast and Haida Gwaii residents. 

Using the Private Members' period of the Morning session, Ms. Rice's synopsis also included a review of some of the recent changes that returned some of the service levels that had been reduced during the BC Liberals time in government and in the times of COVID most recently.

Among her themes a look at increasing the level of employment with the Ferry Service and plans to cap the fares for transit along the BC Coast in the North.

Thankfully, in 2019, through our support B.C. Ferries added 2,700 round trips as well as reduced ferry fares by 15 percent on the smaller and the northern routes where some of those ferry-reliant and dependent communities are located. Restoring the sailings had a real impact for the people of Haida Gwaii. 

Even now, with the increased sailings, there are full ferries in the summertime, which just shows how much that support is needed. I'm relieved that we're strong advocates for this service, and I'm happy how about how hard we've been continuously working to make B.C. Ferries in service for people. 

In 2020, we added $308 million in the safe restart funding to cover B.C. Ferries' COVID-related operational losses, to protect the service and to limit the fare hikes that were on their way. 

While we all know how frustrating sailing cancelations due to crew shortages can be for people, B.C. Ferries has and continues to hire more staff to ensure reliable service for our coastal communities, announcing recently that they have hired 500 new workers, which have an incredible impact for B.C. ferry users. 

Most recently, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced half a billion dollars in new funding for B.C. Ferries to lower fare increases. 

Without this intervention, B.C. Ferries suggested pressure on fares could have resulted in increases as high as over 10 percent. The member opposite talks about interfering. I think this is a really important and critical interference with how B.C. Ferries is operated, and I certainly welcome that interference. --North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice on BC Ferries in the Legislature on Monday

You can review the full discussion on BC Ferries here,  starting at 10:03 AM when BC United MLA Jordan Sturdy who represents West Vancouver-Sea to Sky opened the conversation on the state of the Ferry service.  

The full discussion comes to an end at 10:19 AM

The BC United MLA's contribution to the topic which noted of a number of concerns on the level of service and increasing provincial government control over the transportation service. 

His observations were followed by MLA Rice, she posted her participation to the discussion to her social Media page on Monday. 

 MLA Sturdy provided for a rebuttal to some of her commentary following Ms. Rice's statement.

The 500 people that were hired this spring? Guess what. It happens every year. It's a seasonal hiring. So nothing new. But I appreciate the comments. The truth is that the service has been in decline, and the track record speaks for itself. The recent half-billion-dollar bailout that the member opposite just talked about is a prime example. We've certainly seen that just throwing money at a problem doesn't necessarily provide a solution.

Traditionally, here's the process. Traditionally, B.C. Ferries goes to the commissioner with a proposal for the next four-year performance term. The commissioner then spends six months assessing the proposal, with the help of qualified professionals, and issues a preliminary price cap.

Almost inevitably, that price cap is less than what the company asked for. That's the commissioner's job. They make the corporation go back and either sharpen its pencil or make a better case to the commissioner. And if the rate hikes that the commissioner sets for the next performance term are unpalatable to government, then the government can come up with more money to support the service. 

Unfortunately, what's happened here is this has turned it completely on its head. 

So before the commissioner even set the price cap, half a billion dollars gets dropped into the mix. And what do you know? There's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Miraculously, miraculously, B.C. Ferries comes back to the table before the price cap submission and amends their submission to the commissioner to match exactly what the profits dropped on the table. 

This is not how you get value for taxpayers' dollars. 

It's like if you want to buy a house, you go and say, "Well, how much is it?" and the seller says: "Well, how much you got?" "Oh, $500 million is what I have." "Well, that's the price." And pretty much, that's exactly what's happened. 

It's not a coincidence. It's just crazy times, frankly. 

So just as a review for the House, just so everybody understands: $600 million in fares, give or take $80 million in catering revenue. The feds come up with a paltry $30 million, while they pay for the service in the Maritimes. The province comes up with about $170 million, plus social programs like TAP, for a total of about $200 million. 

So the province can get whatever it wants, can get what it pays for, can add sailings, add vessels. It just needs to work with the commissioner and the corporation to make it happen and be supportive of the corporation.

More notes on the Legislature can be reviewed here.

A wider overview of BC Ferries themes can be explored from our archive page.

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