Residents of British Columbia should not be penalized simply because of where they choose to live and work.
That’s the rationale behind the B.C. Conservatives’ plans for a tax credit for bridge tolls and ferry costs should the party form government following the May election.
John Cummins, party leader, and Bryce Crigger, candidate for the Nanaimo riding, met with the News Bulletin’s editorial board Tuesday, discussing a number of issues including the challenges facing B.C. Ferries.
“Every time we come over to the Island we hear about the high ferry fares,” said Cummins. “Get on with a car and passenger and it’s pricey, no question about it. It’s something we wanted to address.”
Cummins said a glance at the Liberal government’s budget and the money available in B.C. shows simply increasing the subsidy to the ferry corporation isn’t possible at this point.
“Something needs to be done in the long term to fix the operation – making it more affordable – but at this point, any major fix isn’t really in the cards until we take a better look and try to determine a better way of operating the corporation,” he said. “In the interim, the feeling was something had to be done to offer relief for frequent passengers on the ferries.”
The Conservatives propose to give a tax credit to people who spend more than $780 and less than $1,800 a year on ferry fares (and bridge tolls), excluding passengers.
The tax credit would be equal to 40 per cent, which could amount to as much as $408 a year per individual for a frequent traveller on the ferries.
“What goes hand-in-hand with that is we’re proposing eliminating the carbon tax that costs B.C. Ferries about $10 million a year,” said Cummins. “The elimination means $10 million in their pocket that they don’t have to spend.”
Cummins said the carbon tax is a disincentive to doing business in the province’s north and Vancouver Island.
“Goods brought in are more expensive because of the tax on fuel, and products of a community are more expensive to get to market,” he said.
“And at the end of the day, the tax hasn’t done what it was supposed to do and that was reduce B.C.’s carbon footprint.”
He calls the $10 million a significant amount of money and in the long term should be able to help to keep B.C. Ferries’ costs under control.
“These measures are not the final fix by any stretch of the imagination, but it is some relief to frequent travellers and that’s where we felt we had to start,” said Cummins. “We haven’t determined a specific goal for a reasonable level for the fares. That’s something we need to have some discussion on and there has to be a realistic look at what’s achievable as well.”
He said the transformation of B.C. Ferries into a standalone corporation with the government as the sole shareholder hasn’t worked.
“That’s not to say we’re prepared to get rid of it at this point, but it certainly needs a close and careful look,” he said. “B.C. Ferries for decades has operated as a fairly reasonable and dependable operation.
“But in the last number of years, for some reason or another, it can’t seem to operate in a way that meets the expectation of frequent users. That has to change.”
Cummins also questions some of the business decisions by the corporation and its board, citing former CEO David Hahn’s pension package and the offices B.C. Ferries uses.
“Why do we have to have these palatial offices?” he asked. “Some of it might seem small, but it tells you about the mentality of the people that are operating it.
“We have to get back to recognizing these are public assets to be operated for the benefit of the public who is the owner.”