North coast communities have been emotionally devastated by the loss of the Queen of the North, says MLA Gary Coons, and it will probably take years to recover.
Mr. Coons said the people of Hartley Bay – who came to the aid of the sinking ship and looked after the passengers and crew until they were taken back to Prince Rupert by the Coast Guard – are especially in need of care and recognition from the province.
“There’s shock, and trauma,” he said. “We need to ensure the people in Hartley Bay are looked after.”
Mr. Coons made a statement in the Legislature honouring Hartley Bay just hours after the accident. He flew to Prince Rupert that evening, where he spoke to ferry workers, passengers, and national media.
The first-term MLA said he was initially in disbelief at the news. It later dawned on him that most of the crew members are his own friends and neighbours, and even former students he taught at high school in Prince Rupert.
“Thank goodness for the ferry crew and their professionalism,” he said. “The heroic ferry crew and Hartley Bay are number one in my mind.”
Mr. Coons also called on Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon to take responsibility for the ferry system, instead of leaving decisions up to the semi-privatized BC Ferry Services Inc.
He said it was good that the government had approved a pot of money for three new northern ferries (he’d heard it was around $350-million, but said the government wasn’t releasing the exact amount), but said northern communities must be involved in the vessel design.
“The fear is they’ve approved vessels that the advisory committee did not approve,” he said. “We need vessels that are the size of the Queen of the North.”
Mr. Coons also raised questions about the fact that Transport Canada advised of potential safety problems with the Queen of the North and the Queen of Prince Rupert in late 2001. These concerns have also been raised in recent years by the ferry workers union, and by Mr. Coons himself.
Mr. Falcon accused Mr. Coons of “fearmongering” just last month after the MLA said that the northern ferries’ single compartment design was outdated and that the government should be moving faster to replace them.
“You don’t solve problems by pretending they aren’t there,” Mr. Coons said this week about the fearmongering accusation. “You solve problems by looking for them, by investigating them in public, and by coming up with solutions in a transparent manner.”
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