Column: Ferries are our marine highway, a provincial concern

Aug 24, 2020 | Blog, Governance, MLA Column | 4 comments

The provincial government is responsible for the provincial transportation network including our ferry system, the critical service connecting coastal communities. That is why the BC Greens advocate for BC Ferries to be brought back into government.

The ferries system connects us to our homes, our businesses and our communities. They are critical for the economic survival of coastal British Columbia. When an issue with the BC Ferries service arises, it is usually followed by an immediate and visceral reaction from the public.

With at least a third of our provincial economy linked by our marine highways, the provincial government must ensure that the service is robust, reliable, convenient and affordable. This is a message I have heard consistently from my constituents in Saanich North and the Islands and across British Columbia.

BC Ferries was deeply impacted when Dr. Bonnie Henry responded to the COVID-19 global pandemic by asking people to stay home and ordering strict social distancing measures. Their revenue plummeted with the restrictions on non-essential travel and the dramatically reduced ferry schedules.

While the provincial government scrambled to address the impacts of the pandemic across the province, BC Ferries were left to fend for themselves. To maintain the critical service the corporation had little choice but to turn to their reserves. I am deeply concerned about their ability to maintain a modern ferry service without those funds for important capital projects like vessel renewal and terminal upgrades.

Thankfully the federal government’s $1 billion contribution, that must be matched dollar-for-dollar by the province, will provide some financial relief for the ferries service. However it’s not before hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent.

I raised this issue with the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Hon. Claire Travena, more than a month ago. It’s likely that a generation’s worth of capital investments in the ferry service are gone and it’s unlikely that any of the recently announced funding will replenish the reserve accounts of the corporation.

The extent of the damage that BC Ferries has sustained as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic remains unclear. With the potential of a second wave this fall there may be choppy waters ahead and BC Ferries can not afford further losses of revenue.

I appreciate the federal government stepping up and including the BC Ferries as an eligible transit service for their recovery funds. It means the provincial government is also now on the hook for investing further resources in keeping this critical service operating.

Our ferry system is a critical part of our provincial transportation network, they are marine highways, and despite the current complex governance structure they are squarely a provincial responsibility. The provincial government has to take responsibility for BC Ferries once again to ensure the long-term viability of the critical service keeping our coast connected.

Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands
This column was originally published in the Saanich News on August 23, 2020.

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  1. Amanda Griesbach

    Excellent points, writes a resident of Pender Islands. I believe that the ferries need to be a part of our provincial transportation system again, since ferries are essential to vibrant, economically-sustainable island communities.

    A reservation system for the SGI routes would help or loading based on population, so that I don’t have to line up for more than an hour to ensure that I might be on the early boat off Pender to go to Victoria. However, our local ferry committee keeps raising this issue and keeps being ignored. Pender Islands population equals Mayne, Saturna and Galiano Islands, but we’re the last in line for loading. This needs to be addressed. Please.

    And yes, a reserve fund is crucial. Time for a cutback on salaries for the top people for some time while we recover from this pandemic’s economic impact?

    Thank you,
    Amanda Karma

  2. Kishori and Brian Hutchings

    Thank you for sending this Adam – yes, I have felt that for many years – if we have to pay for the ferries, then others should pay for their bridges. I especially get upset when I think that there are ferries in the interior and there is no charge for the ride.
    I don’t mind paying for the fuel – say $15 for a return trip from Salt Spring to Victoria but it was much more – thank heaven it has been reduced.

  3. John Cake

    I agree with you Adam. The ferries should be an arm of the government I do not feel that the privatized ferry service has been an improvement in either cost or quality of service. I also feel that we do not need fancy ferries, just good serviceable boats built here in BC.

  4. Jan Steinman

    Boy, you read my mind! I was just about to write you!

    I don’t leave this rock (Salt Spring) very often, but when I do, it is for some essential product or service, like a medical appointment. And so I depend on being able to travel the “marine highway” with impunity.

    Yesterday, I had to pick up two international students from YVR for a two-week quarantine before they begin school in September.

    “No problem,” I though, “It’s Monday,” which is typically one of the least-traveled days. For insurance, I took the 06:15 from Fulford Harbour, knowing I couldn’t make the 7 to Tsawwassen, but figuring it would get me a good spot in the line-up for the 9.

    Nope. One sailing wait. I was on the 11, despite being in line before 7!

    Luckily, their flight didn’t come in until 14:30, so I had no trouble meeting their flight. But coming back? TWO sailing wait! The parking lot was full at Swartz Bay, and cars were lined up down to Land’s End Road!

    While milling about the ferry terminal, trying to find an outdoor corner where I could unmask and get some fresh air, I overheard two ferry workers talking about the situation. They were discussing that BC Ferries had lost so much money early in the pandemic that they were trying to “catch up” now, by cutting services, resulting in a two-sailing wait while the Coastal Celebration — a “Super C Class” boat with the largest capacity in the system — sat there idle! It was there at 6:45 when I arrived, and was still sitting there at 9PM when I finally boarded the Skeena Queen to go home!

    This is the result of spinning off monopoly essential services into pseudo-independent Crown Corporations.

    Bring BC Ferries back into the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure!


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