Revert BC Ferries management to province: Merilees

Masset’s mayor is joining calls for BC Ferries to return to control by the provincial transportation ministry.

Masset’s mayor is joining calls for BC Ferries to return to control by the provincial transportation ministry.

Mayor Andrew Merilees broadcast his view on Twitter last week, later telling the Observer he was moved by the situation in Powell River, where sailings have been hit by emergency repairs to a 51-year-old ferry — the town’s third cut to ferry service this year.

“They’ve been feeling some of the same pressures we’ve been feeling on Haida Gwaii for many years now,” said Merilees, noting recent reductions in winter and summer sailings on the Skidegate-Prince Rupert ferry have made it tougher for people to get to medical appointments, see friends and families, or get supplies.

Sandspit has also been isolated by a reduction in afternoon and evening sailings, he said.

With the last sailing to Sandspit leaving at 6:10 p.m., Merilees said it’s difficult for residents there to join evening meetings, not to mention islands life in general.

And in the summer, the lack of afternoon sailings makes its difficult for passengers bound for the Mount Moresby Adventure Camp.

“Everything is bottle-necked,” he said. Because of the schedule, passengers going to the camp often have hardly any time to visit the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay.

BC Ferries was a Crown corporation until 2003, when the BC Liberal government made it a self-financing company with a contract to serve the province, although it continues to receive provincial subsidies — $180 million in 2014.

Merilees said the restructuring has meant less funding for the ferry service, and higher management costs.

No one from the provincial government has spoken to Haida Gwaii communities about the issue for more than a year, Merilees said, not even at the Union of BC Municipalities meeting in September. The resident-led North & Central Coast Advisory Committee’s last recorded meeting was in May of 2014.

Last winter did see a 20,000-signature petition calling for a return of BC Ferries to the transportation ministry tabled in the legislature, but Merilees said there have been no official moves since then.

“They’ve had a lot of pressure, not just from Haida Gwaii, but from all the coastal communities,” he said. “It’s sad that the government has just completely ignored some of the vital infrastructure to connect the coastal communities with the rest of the service, and with industry in the province.”