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Les Leyne: ‘New’ ferry service is restored old one

It takes a certain amount of gall to disguise a complete capitulation and about-face on a transportation initiative as a major forward step, but that’s what the B.C. Liberals are trying to pull off.
After pulling the Queen of Chilliwack, pictured here, from the Bella Coola route in 2014, saying the service was too expensive, the B.C. government has announced it will implement a direct ferry route from Port Hardy to Bella Coola by 2018, touting it as a new service that will support tourism and the mid-Coast economy.

Les Leyne mugshot genericIt takes a certain amount of gall to disguise a complete capitulation and about-face on a transportation initiative as a major forward step, but that’s what the B.C. Liberals are trying to pull off.

Even the slightest rueful expression of regret was missing from Tuesday’s announcement that they’ve given up trying to make do with the pathetic stand-in service that was concocted three summers ago when they decided the ferry service to Bella Coola was too expensive. In fact, they didn’t even acknowledge the original reduction. Instead, the planned restoration of service to some kind of respectable level was pitched as an exciting, brand-new idea.

It’s like announcing you’ve decided to buy a new car, without acknowledging that you drove the last one into a ditch and totalled it.

“B.C.’s strong, diverse and growing economy gives us the ability to invest in unique tourism opportunities along the mid-Coast,” said Premier Christy Clark.

(As they did for years, before Transportation Minister Todd Stone decided the original route was too expensive.)

“By introducing the right ferry service, using the right vessel, we can take advantage of the increasing numbers of international visitors who come here to experience one of the world’s jewels — the Great Bear Rainforest.”

(As they already were, using the previous boat, before it was replaced by the oldest, smallest ferry in the entire fleet.)

Who can forget that day in 2014 when Stone unveiled the MV Nimpkish, a 41-year-old, 16-car ferry, as a “world-class tourism experience”?

The plucky little glorified tugboat was going to replace the much bigger boat that was losing millions. Moreover, it was going to be refitted with “comfortable seats, a heated interior” and, wait for it, “potable water,” to attract those cosmopolitan Europeans eager to spend nine hours plying the fjord.

“This vessel truly is going to do us proud with these tourists,” he proclaimed.

Umm, no.

Tourism operators in the Cariboo Chilcotin knew from the get-go it wasn’t going to work. But Stone stuck to his guns after the first summer. He sailed it himself with his family and declared it had “a charm all unto itself.”

In the face of continued unhappiness, he insisted that if correct expectations were set, the run could be made successful. But it was up to tourist operators to decide if they wanted to make it work.

Instead, they formed a working group that has spent two years emphatically establishing what most everyone knew from the outset — the MV Nimpkish won’t get it done.

Oddly enough, the only reference this week from the government to the whole backstory was a hearty congratulations to the tourism business people for “rolling up their sleeves” and working hard to create a strategy. The strategy is simply to recognize the whole thing was a mistake and the run needs a bigger, better ship.

Much was made of Cariboo-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett’s huge efforts over the past few years to restore the route. They were considerable, and they coincided this summer with the government’s obvious goal to make as many problems as possible go away between now and next May.

In the calculations underway, it likely came down to a realization that the government can have a Liberal MLA serving that riding, or the MV Nimpkish.

But it can’t have both.

All this would be easier to take if they’d made room for some fleeting acknowledgment that the MV Nimpkish turned out to be something less than a genius idea. Even a passing reference to a second thought would have counted for something.

But they elected to sail full steam ahead with the notion that they’ve come up with a new idea, without mentioning that the fact that the new idea is needed to correct the mess left by the previous new idea.

Just So You Know: Starting in 2018, a different ship will offer what Clark called a “higher-end service.”

When you’re moving from a tiny open-deck ferry that started sailing in Pierre Trudeau’s first term, just about anything will be higher-end.

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