Petition demanding B.C. Ferries be made part of the highway system now in government’s hands

More than 16,000 people signed the petition

A petition with more than 16,000 signatures demanding the B.C. ferry system be returned to the control of the Ministry of Transportation was handed over to the provincial government this week.

Quadra Island regional director Jim Abram brought the petition, with 16,055 signatures, to the legislature on Monday.

B.C. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen presented the petition to the legislature, the latest of many since the B.C. Liberal government set up the current structure in 2003. British Columbia Ferry Services Inc., as it is officially known, became an independent, regulated company that could borrow its own money to update its vessels and terminals.

“It was great, you know,” Abram said of having the petition introduced to the legislature. “Adam Olsen, North Saanich-Gulf Islands MLA Green Party and their caucus met the week before to make sure that they were still aligned and that they were willing to present it. And they are still absolutely in favour as a caucus to see B.C. Ferries assumed back into the ministry. That was in their platform and they have stuck by it after the election which is kind of nice.”

The NDP government accepted the petition for consideration and now Abram and the petition supporters will give them a few days to decide what that means.

“I think within the week, I will be inquiring of the government what is it you are actually doing with the petition,” Abram said.

Abram is the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) director representing the Discovery Islands and Mainland Inlets. He is also the SRD’s representative on the Regional District Ferry Chairs Group.

Abram’s petition garnered a lot of media attention Monday. He and Olsen held a scrum with the legislature media after the petition was presented and was queried by most of the larger provincial media. That was followed by a round of visits to Victoria-based broadcasting outlets.

“It was really quite a good opportunity to be able to explain the thing,” Abram said.

The petition, as explained online at change.org, says “It is time to bring BC Ferries back into the Ministry of Transportation and treat it like any other highway in the province. B.C. Ferries is a major part of our transportation infrastructure, the Ferry Authority does not work. We need to look at the Governance of BCFS and put it back into the Ministry of Transportation where it belongs. This is an essential service for our Province.”

The issue has garnered significant debate in coastal communities and Abram said the concept has the support of the chairs of the coastal regional districts, including Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District (Victoria).

Coincidentally, the Minister of Transportation, Claire Trevena, is the MLA for North Island and lives on Quadra Island, as does Abram. She was an advocate of placing ferries under the ministry’s umbrella when she was in opposition for many years but has backed off that position now that she is the minister. She has implemented a review of BC Ferries but that review will not include governance of the ferry system, meaning it is not looking at whether to dissolve the arms-length corporate structure and place it under ministry responsibility – “Part of the highway system,” as it is popularly described.

Trevena, instead, contends that coastal ferry users don’t care what the governance structure is, they just want to see it run efficiently and affordably.

“They want it to be affordable and accessible, running the service they want,” Trevena told reporters at the legislature. “They don’t really care where it is housed as long as it’s affordable and accessible.”

Abram is surprised to hear Trevena make that contention because he says that’s not what he’s hearing.

“I was quite taken aback to see the minister’s governance comments,” Abram said, “The true picture is the people on this coast want to see B.C. Ferries put back in the ministry so that it will be kept affordable and accessible and cost efficient and all of that. That’s what people are saying on the coast.”

– with additional reporting by Black Press Legislative reporter Tom Fletcher

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