Ferry townhall is ‘a complete sham’

Seriously, does Transportation Minister Mary Polak really believe she can solve BC Ferries’ budget woes by inviting grumpy ferry users to...

Seriously, does Transportation Minister Mary Polak really believe she can solve BC Ferries’ budget woes by inviting grumpy ferry users to volunteer ways to slash the service they depend on?

Does she really believe coastal residents are fooled for a second when she says the government’s series of 38 community meetings is helping map “a vision” for the future of the perennially cash-strapped public utility?

Polak must be high on Dramamine if she really expects ferry users to drop everything and march off to a bunch of community get-togethers where they will help government identify which ferry runs to eliminate to save $26 million.

Any ferry user with the brains that God gave a goose will tell the minister her government can start saving millions the moment it finds a way to shed a bunch of ferry corporation executives who have fat salaries, fatter pensions and who you never see left behind in a ferry line-up.

It’s not as if this bunch doesn’t have a template to follow. Another agency of government, ICBC, has just announced a significant wave of 250 layoffs that will save the Crown corporation $29 million a year. ICBC committed publicly in August to trim its top-heavy executive branch in response to a government review. The people’s insurance agency did not need to ask the drivers of B.C. to come up with service diminishing options.

Polak’s dog and pony show has predetermination written all over it. The ferry corporation knows exactly which routes and which sailings it wants to eliminate. It just doesn’t want to pull the trigger.

This is so typical. The government has been trying to put accountability distance between itself and the ferry corporation since 2003 when it was transformed from a taxpayer-supported Crown corporation into BC Ferries Services Inc. The idea was to create an entity that could attract private sector investment and adopt a commercial approach to service delivery.

The goal was not to create a pricey service with shrinking ridership. The experiment in quasi-privatization failed in part because the ferry-using public has refused to allow the government to sidestep its responsibility for the service. The public also refuses to abandon the notion that ferries are an integral part of the highway system.

Strathcona Regional District Director Jim Abram cut through the BS this past week when he dismissed Polak’s consultation process as “a complete sham.” This is one dude who bears listening to. He’s a former Quadra Island lighthouse keeper, grassroots politician and former president of the Union of BC Municipalities who has fought loud and long to get Victoria to acknowledge that our ferries are part of our highways infrastructure.

Abram says a group of coastal regional district representatives rejected Polak’s consultation proposal three weeks ago at a meeting in Nanaimo. He says the meeting lasted just two hours and the regional district reps were not even given the courtesy of reviewing material ahead of time, nor were they provided the agenda they’d requested weeks earlier.

“The insulting part of the whole thing was the fact they passed out three documents, including charts of sailings and ridership, and they would not let us keep them.”

It seems to me that Polak and her cronies are about to accomplish the very thing they seek to avoid; they are turning our ferries into a hot button election issue.

For this, I salute them. M

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