I spend a lot of time on ferries. As the Member for Saanich North and the Islands my constituents span the Salish Sea from Sidney to Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Salt Spring, and Saturna.
Quality ferry service is essential to their lives. Ferries are how they get to school and work every day. It’s how they access healthcare, visit family, and go to the bank. It works the other way, as well – ferries bring goods and services that keep the local economy connected and flowing.
If ferry service is cut off from Victoria the provincial capital will run out of food in 2-3 days. Imagine the impacts for smaller communities when service is delayed for even a few hours.
For British Columbians, ferries are a part of the highway system. Bill 25 is the first amendment to the Coastal Ferry Act in a long time. It does not deal with the governance directly but begins the process of reconnecting the public interest in the decision making.
I rise today to speak to Bill 25, the Coastal Ferry Amendment Act, and appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak to this bill — indeed, important amendments to the Coastal Ferry Act.
I just want to acknowledge the impact that the ferries have on my riding. Indeed, the Saanich Peninsula is connected to the Lower Mainland and the rest of the world through Swartz Bay, as Vancouver Island is connected by the B.C. Ferries. But as well, I represent a number of ferry-dependent communities in and throughout the southern Gulf Islands — amazingly vibrant, creative places that require the ferries in order for them to be able to be connected not only to Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay but also, again, to the rest of the world.
A lot of the economic activity that’s generated on the southern Gulf Islands comes through those ferries, either in the form of tourists that come and visit through the summer months and purchase the amazing creations of island residents but, as well, through products that are made and need to be distributed to the global economy.
So it’s important that I take a moment to take the highlighter and draw attention to the very important work that I think that this House is responsible for — ensuring that B.C. Ferries, the marine highway system, is indeed resilient, reliable, convenient for people who are dependent on it on the southern Gulf Islands and all up and down the coast of British Columbia.
It’s not lost on me that slightly over a third, I think it was, of the economy of British Columbia is impacted, and coastal communities are a third of the provincial economy, roughly. So they are connected by that marine highway network. Many of the members in this House represent ferry-dependent communities and recognize and understand the impact that they have.
I think that it’s important that we stand up and acknowledge that as often as we possibly can. There has been this perception, I think, that has overwhelmed this place that we can do without those important aspects of our economy — that we can let those communities fall behind, that we can let them lag behind in their transportation and connectivity. I think that it’s important we stand up and defend not only the physical connections through the ferries, but also the digital connections, and that we remain emotionally connected to these very, very important communities that are often the life of our province.
I think that it’s important to note that the Redlin report that was commissioned by the government over a year ago now and that has informed and inspired aspects of this bill has 38 recommendations with respect to the public interest. I was on a panel last week at the College of Applied Biology, talking about defining the public interest, and I wrote about it recently, actually, on my blog — about the public interest.
As someone who has been around the political tables and been around the political discussion for the last decade, it’s not lost on me that that is fundamentally the job of what we as elected officials do. That’s to try to define the public interest. It’s an ever-morphing, ever-evolving, ever-changing target that is nearly impossible to hit because the public interest is ever morphing and ever evolving.
It’s that pursuit of the public interest that I think defines the work that we do in this place on a daily basis — the diversity of opinions and the diversity of thought. Indeed, we’ve heard some here. We do hear it on a regular basis in this place, that diversity. It’s important that these Houses, that this chamber, are reflective of the diversity of interests in the public and that the public interest is defined as broadly as possible, recognizing that only we, collectively, are going to be able to achieve even coming somewhere near….
I often say that I represent 50,000 different opinions in my riding and that as many people that love the decision that I make will be equally not so loving of the decision that I make. Just as many people that thought I made a good decision in June of 2017 think I made a poor decision in June of 2017. What it comes down to is the ability to be able to have a mature conversation with people and to meet them in their space and to say we have to do our best to balance, in the public interest, the 50,000 opinions.
I think that it is important to highlight the governance aspect of this. Indeed, I’m on the record, and I have no problem saying that I was disappointed that the governance aspects of B.C. Ferries was taken out of the terms of reference as a focus for Mr. Redlin in his report. It’s not lost on me that it comes back that 38 recommendations about the public interest are actually talking about the governance aspects of this critically important service and corporation. It is a part of our highway. The ferry system is a part of our highway system. It is an important part of our highway system, and it need not be lost on that.
In the interest of time, I’m just going to cover two more issues here and then take my seat. I think it’s important to point out that under the current governance model, some of the important aspects that we find important and that I think that….
I’d like to thank the leadership at B.C. Ferries, who’ve been very generous with their time with me, as someone who is not only the critic for Transportation but also has ferry-dependent communities. The leadership at B.C. Ferries has been generous with their time. I really appreciate the efforts that they take on behalf of the public interest; although, I think it is important that we highlight here, at this point in time, that it is our responsibility to be providing transportation services that are equitable across the province, that are accessible to all British Columbians, that don’t hamper aspects of our communities and of our province.
When it comes to the impacts of climate change and when it comes to the impacts of noise — the pollution aspects of this — I know that B.C. Ferries is working towards trying to make their ferries quieter to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible on wildlife and that they’re trying to have the lowest possible impact with their emissions. They’re, indeed, in a transition. I would like to suggest here at this point that it’s not soon enough, fast enough. It’s not quick enough, fast enough.
Transitioning from one fossil fuel to another fossil fuel at this point in time, when we know that Canada is warming at twice the rate…. We’ve known that for 20 years. This is not new information. We need to be moving to those electric drives as rapidly as possible.
Finally, with respect to the shipbuilding industry in this province, I recognize that it would be desirable for us to have a very vibrant shipbuilding industry in this province and that we could be building our ships, the vessels for B.C. Ferries, in this province. We could be, indeed, competitive on a global scale with shipbuilding. Government is going to have to make that a priority, not just to build the 11 or 14 — or whatever the number is — future vessels but that we’re going to have to be competitive on a global scale. That number of vessels is not enough in order for us to keep, over the long term, those investments in a shipbuilding industry and the kind of skills and labour force that we need to do that. That is a specific focus that the government is going to have to have.
With that, I would like to rest my comments on that. I’m getting the “let’s keep this moving, Member,” so I will get moving to lunch. I’d like to thank the Speaker for the opportunity to speak to this and the Minister of Transportation for beginning the important work of keeping our ferry system reliable, convenient and, indeed, world-class.