Call renewed for more federal ferry support

Nathan Cullen joins six MPs demanding expansion of building fund

Nathan Cullen is renewing his pre-election call for the federal government to offer more help with B.C.’s beleaguered ferry system. In a letter to the new Infrastructure Minister, Amarjeet Sohi, the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP and six other MPs from Vancouver Island are asking that criteria for the New Building Canada Fund be extended to allow BC Ferries to apply for critical funding for infrastructure, terminal upgrades and new vessels. Their hope is the injection of cash would relieve BC Ferries of the financial pressure to increase fares and reduce sailings.

Under the Conservative government the Fund was not available to BC Ferries.

“British Columbia’s ferry system is a critical transportation link for moving goods and people in coastal and remote communities and … we believe that the coastal ferry system should be regarded in the same way as other key transportation links like roads and bridges,” the MPs wrote.

“This kind of funding would reduce cost pressures as BC Ferries renews its fleet and develops terminals and faces other capital costs.

“We believe that enabling Federal infrastructure funding from the Fund would help reduce these costs and enable savings to be passed on to ferry users.”

At last month’s Ferry Advisory Committee meeting, BC Ferries representatives stated they welcomed all “cost-neutral improvements” to the system. At least in principle, funding from the federal government could make it possible to improve service without increasing spending from its current budget.

However, committee member Bill Beldessi of Sandspit said those statements were meant to tell communities they were simply free to move the schedules around, but without exceeding 12 hours of daily service.

He feels if the MPs can hatch a plan with the federal government’s New Building Canada Fund, provisos must be in place to ensure to savings are channeled into the right place.

“My biggest worry is they would apply the extra savings to their money-making runs, and the Northern runs would be on the outside looking in, as always.”

With the potential of accessing the building fund and most other efforts to improve ferry service, Mr. Beldessi says the committee members will need to redirect their discussions away from the corporation to the provincial government directly.

In the last committee meeting BC Ferries repeatedly stated the FAC was the wrong committee to discuss changes in service levels, frustrating committee members to the point of nearly to dissolving the committee altogether.

Despite optimism from committee chair Ellen Cranston, that the new BC Ferries vice president seems open to discussions and solutions, the overall mandate of the VAC is too weak to push for any significant change, Mr. Beldessi said.

“I think there was a feeling among the communities, not just the committee members, that we could actually accomplish something there, but it’s pretty obvious now that BC Ferries was the wrong target. The Province of British Columbia is the target.”