If the strong voices of our local municipal and regional leaders are any example, it must be clear to Victoria that BC Ferries CEO David Hahn cannot be permitted to continue running the quasi-privatized corporation by bluff and by gambit.
The leaders of all the coastal regional districts met recently in Nanaimo to begin charting a strategy to restructure BCF based on the premise that Hahn’s semi-privatized ship of state is “deeply flawed” with an agenda that is having a “devastating” effect on local economies.
Earlier this year, in a game of corporate poker that a shorter-leashed Crown CEO would never dare to play, the Million Dollar Man announced that ferry fares should increase 50 per cent on some minor routes and more than double on northern routes.
The government winced. Nevertheless, Ferry Commissioner Martin Crilly signed off on increases between 2012 and 2016 that will drive fares up by almost 18 per cent on major routes and 38 per cent on minor routes.
Then Hahn dropped another wild card asking the provincial government for permission to cut 400 sailings a year from its major routes. The government is still mulling that one over.
This game of blind man’s bluff is no way to run a ferry system and the government knows it.
I believe there is a dawning awareness that it was a mistake in 2003 to transform BCF 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. However, the corporation is controlled by the BC Ferry Authority which holds the single common voting share of the company.
Two years ago, Comptroller General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland submitted a Review of Transportation Governance Models that found fault with the quasi-privatization and called for improvements to “ensure strong oversight and accountability.”
Wenezenki-Yolland said oversight and accountability were inadequate “because Authority members have also appointed themselves as Directors on the BCF Board.”
“Consequently, the Board approved excessive compensation plans for both themselves and the BCF executives without proper accountability.”
The Comptroller General also suggested that “a focus on the profitability ... of the ferry operator exclusively could be at the expense of the public service mandate of the ferry system.”
Obviously, the BCF Board needs fewer self-indulgent insiders and more public voices. That’s why our frustrated local government leaders have asked to be represented on the BCF Board of Directors.
This proposal comes just weeks before the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Vancouver (Sept. 26-30). This municipal summit is attended by every member of the legislature and is a political pressure cooker within which there is no wiggle room to escape steamy issues.
Going into this convention, the coastal community leaders are also asking that the ferry system be treated as part of the province’s highway system. In fact, one UBCM resolution from Port Clements in the Haida Gwaii calls on the provincial government “to recognize our coastal ferry services as essential extensions of our provincial public highway system.”
It’s a tough subject to dodge since the transportation ministry continues to operate free, taxpayer-subsidized ferries crossing the Kootenay and Arrow lakes.
Another tough subject to dodge will be why the provincial government continues to allow itself to be bullied on this file. M