One of the largest BC Ferries protests in years was held Tuesday afternoon on the lawn of the provincial legislature in Victoria.
Called ‘Defend Our Marine Highways’, it was organized by coastal activists who want the premier and transportation minister to hear other pleas directly.
The protesters are demanding that the government stop cuts to ferry services, lower the fares and put the ferries back into the highways system.
They’re arguing that these are not just coastal issues, but provincial ones.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone, says he understands the frustrations of people that live in coastal communities but changes have to be made.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to get BC Ferries to a place of affordability and sustainability,” he says. “That means, making some tough decisions on service levels. There are too many sailings in the big BC Ferries system, with utilization rates in the low teens and in single digits. I think British Columbians support us in not believing it’s sustainable to have more cars, more staff than cars and passengers.”
Stone says these refinements to the changed routes are not perfect, but the government needed to do something.
“We certainly know there will be some impact from a tourism perspective,” he says. We’ve also doubled down our efforts, particularly over the last month or so, reaching out to tourism organizations. We sat down with a wide variety of representatives from the tourism industry in the last week to talk through the concerns they had with respect to the changes that were made.”
Jim Abram, chair of the Strathcona Regional District, was one of the organizers of the rally, says this ferry system has never been so defunct.
“There’s no way in hell it can be dragged back out of the muck without putting it back into the Department of Highways where it belongs,” he says. “Now we’ve got a government that’s saying ‘let’s screw the provincial economy, let’s destroy all of the communities that have built on this coast that we opened it up for, just because we’re too stubborn to take the obvious solution and put it back in highways’.”
“The word ‘subsidized’ is the most painful word I’ve ever heard,” adds Abram. “We’re talking about infrastructure costs, this is a marine highway, you don’t subsidize the bridges, you don’t subsidize the roads, the tunnels, the everything else, you pay for them as infrastructure costs, that’s what BC Ferries are. Get off your butt Todd, pay for them.”
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