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Gabriola Island residents protest ferry cuts

Gabriola Island residents rally Saturday to protest B.C. Ferries’ planned sailing reductions on the Nanaimo-Descanso Bay route. - Photo submitted
Gabriola Island residents rally Saturday to protest B.C. Ferries’ planned sailing reductions on the Nanaimo-Descanso Bay route.
— image credit: Photo submitted

About 400 people rallied on Gabriola Island Saturday, protesting impending ferry service cuts, which they say will adversely affect the community.

A recent report by Gabriola’s transportation commission and ferry advisory committee estimated that the island’s economy could see an annual loss of $5.7 million and 176 jobs due to the the proposed early-morning and late-night sailing cuts set for April.

“The province did not do any socio-economic impact analysis before they cancelled the sailings and they should have,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Island Trust council chairwoman. “If they care about the economy and they care about communities and working families, they would've done that work themselves.”

Kathy Ramsey, a member of organizing group B.C. Marine Highway, said residents are frustrated as the ferry is an integral part of life on Gabriola Island.

“I have a business (Gabriola Artworks) on the island so I rely on the ferry, whether I'm on it, whether my goods are on it or whether my customers are on it,” Ramsey said.

Ever since the ferry cuts were announced by Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone and B.C. Ferries' president and CEO Mike Corrigan in November, island residents have expressed concern about the loss of late-night ferry service.

“Our school system is designed around the fact that our 200 high school students go to Nanaimo, so with these ferry cuts it will mean that every high school student on the island has to be back at the ferry by 8:30 p.m. ... they can't do any extra-curricular activites, they can't even do any curricular activities that require evening participation,” Ramsey said.

However, Stone told the News Bulletin during a visit to Nanaimo in late-November that specific sailing cuts were up for discussion and a series of forums for affected communities were held in during the month of December.

Malcolmson is hopeful there can be some flexibility with which routes are cut.

“I hope that what the province heard through the community meetings is that if we could look at alternate ways to reduce cost then the province might look at that,” Malcolmson said.

“My optimistic side says that the ministry might've heard the message from our community that the very early and the very late sailings really are lifeline runs and there's no flexibility around them for people that are relying on them for their jobs,” she said.

Ferry advisory committee chairpeople from across the coast are set to meet with Corrigan today (Jan. 21) at Departure Bay.

The transportation commission and ferry advisory committee report can be viewed at www.islandstrust.bc.ca/islands/local-trust-areas/gabriola.aspx.

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