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Haida Gwaii leaders lash out at government after cuts to ferry service proceeding as planned

Haida Gwaii leaders say they feel ignored after the B.C. Government announced it would be proceeding with a 52-sailing reduction to the islands, something that flies in the face of public outcry during community consultation meetings held late last year.

"I don't understand why they spent the money on the public consultation process. It is obvious they had made a decision and were holding firm to it ... we should not have been led to believe we had the opportunity to create changes because that wasn't there," said Queen Charlotte Mayor Carol Kulesha, noting she felt the timing of the announcement was also suspicious.

"I felt we were getting a lot of momentum in opposition to these cuts, and I think making this announcement today was designed to stop that."

Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees said he wasn't surprised and lashed out at the government for carrying on with the cuts.

"The government has really shown a contempt and complete ignorance of the needs of coastal communities. I don't think they really listened to the people of the communities during their meetings ... this is going to make things tighter and more difficult on the islands. It means we are going to be more isolated, things are going to be more expensive, we will have less access to health care and there will be fewer days of delivery," he said, taking particular aim at the Minister of Transportation.

"We need to keep the pressure on, particularly on Minister Todd Stone who has been completely absent in this whole process. It is shameful, he has been absent and hasn't responded to anything we have sent him."

Kulesha said she was surprised by the fact the cuts were still scheduled for this spring and the final schedule won't be released until the end of March, saying that time line will present a number of challenges.

"The impact is it is going to be very, very difficult for the islands, the coast itself and the province's tourism industry, which is going to have to reinvent itself because the reliable schedules people have counted on are no longer in place," she said.

"We know the cuts are still in place and are still being tweaked, but it is going to be more difficult until we know what those tweaks are."

A result of the delay in getting the schedule finalized is people cannot make reservations to travel to Haida Gwaii and Merilees said that will only hurt the island economy and the small businesses that rely on tourism.

"People are starting to make their summer plans ... if they can't book passage and secure a travel time, there is a danger that they are not going to come at all," he said.

"It shows nobody at BC Ferries understands basic economics. If you want to increase ridership you need to make it easier for people to access the service, not put more barriers in place."

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