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Minister says ferry service cuts likely but not until after B.C. election

Transportation Minister Mary Polak says service cuts at B.C. Ferries won’t be made public before the May 14 provincial election.
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A B.C. Ferries vessel at Swartz Bay.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak says service cuts at B.C. Ferries won’t be made public before the May 14 provincial election.

But cuts are likely, she said, as the government and the ferries corporation try to find $26 million in savings through service adjustments over the next three years.

Polak on Tuesday released the Coastal Ferries Consultation and Engagement report summarizing public input after eight weeks of meetings last fall.

The minister said the government has until June to notify B.C. Ferries about any cost-saving measures, including service reductions — but that deadline can be extended.

The consultation process involved 40 public meetings, drawing about 2,000 people in 30 coastal communities. Another 1,200 people contributed their thoughts in writing.

Maurine Karagianis, NDP ferries critic, said it appears the Liberal government used the consultation process as a way to push decision-making off until after the election.

“They’ve undertaken this process and released this document. There’s nothing here that’s close to any kind of recommendation or solution,” Karagianis said.

“The reality is B.C. Ferries is in big trouble and this is a vivid example of the failed privatization experiment that the government undertook back in 2003.”

It’s one of many important decisions the government has pushed until after the election, Karagianis said.

“I think we have to create a new vision for B.C. Ferries and it has to be long-term — 20 or 30 years,” she said. “Ferries are a significant part of our transportation infrastructure.”

It’s difficult to know what’s going on within the corporation, she said. “We know that middle management has gone from 155 people to 600 since 2003.”

B.C. Ferries has also set up a tourism outlet in downtown Vancouver. Such initiatives might be better operated by Tourism B.C., Karagianis said.

She’s calling for an audit of the ferry corporation.

The report details six considerations to achieve $26 million in savings to 2016. These include addressing such problem areas as significant annual shortfalls, low annual ridership, fewer people making round trips, determination of basic levels of ferry service, routes requiring vessel replacement and the complexity of multi-stop routes.

— With a file from Canadian Press

rshaw@timescolonist.com

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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