Cullen wraps up islands-wide tour

  • Jun. 7, 2015 8:00 p.m.

By Quinn BenderHaida Gwaii ObserverSkeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen wrapped up a multi-day tour of Haida Gwaii to reconnect with community leaders, businesses and individuals last week. Amongst several concerns and grievances heard from islanders, BC Ferries not-so-surprisingly topped the list.”There’s always been a frustration with ferries, but it’s reaching a critical point,” Mr. Cullen said. “The service has become so unreliable, it’s just so incredibly poor, its hurting just about every aspect of island life. The economy certainly, and tourism as well, but also people’s ability to get to medical appointments and just their ability to live here.”On May 8 Mr. Cullen had called upon the federal government to provide more funding to the province to improve, or at least maintain, service levels for BC Ferries. Speaking in the House of Commons he said the current subsidy works out to only $1.04 per passenger, and that money earmarked for the subsidy is being mischannled into general revenue, meaning it often doesn’t go toward the intended use.In a meeting with Observer staff in Queen Charlotte, Mr. Cullen said he will continue to apply pressure for more funding, reminding the Conservative government that when B.C. entered confederation, he said, as part of the deal the Government of Canada at the time promised to support ferry service. Outside his influence in Ottawa, Mr. Cullen is also taking aim squarely at BC Ferries management, blasting the CEO and vice presidents for mid-six-figure salaries, and various operational policies he says hinders basic access to ferry service.”There’s this asinine policy they have of allowing construction companies to book deck space, but not penalize them when they don’t show up,” he said. “I’m coming back here in August with the family. We phoned two weeks ago and were told we’re on standby. Well, I understand what that means, and I’m still going try to get to the islands, but to a much more casual visitor, you’re essentially telling them, ‘don’t come.'”It’s choking the life of the island.”Mr. Cullen typically makes two trips annually to the Haida Gwaii to meet with residents. During his stay last week he held two meet-and-greet sessions, one at the Crow’s nest in Tlell May 18, followed by Brady’s Bistro at the Sandspit Airport May 21, in between various stops and meetings in other islands communities.  He praised a Skidegate heat-pump exchange project, with local business Don’s Heat Pumps, saying it’s a rare instance where Aboriginal Affairs works well with a community’s needs, as opposed to ideas conceived of and executed from Ottawa.”If this works, we can expand this to other communities islands-wide,” he said.Mr. Cullen also met with GwaiiTel representatives, citing the critical role connectivity plays in today’s economy, to discuss new federal funding programs the organization hopes to access for a fiber opitic Internet connection from the mainland.Of course islanders pitched a battery of concerns over proposed oil pipelines and the subsequent tanker traffic passing the islands, to which Mr. Cullen focused his attention on Haida Gwaii’s capacity for emergency response. “At the same time the government has been pushing for pipelines and increased traffic, increased risk, they’ve been cutting back dramatically on [Coast Guard funding]. “I don’t think most people realize how much traffic is already going by here already. But if something were to happen, the best policy they have for response is Hope.”

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