Representatives of BC Ferries and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure heard massive public outcry from Haida Gwaii residents about the proposed ferry sailing cuts during consultation meetings last week.
While the BC Coastal Ferries Community Engagement meetings were held to engage with ferry users on strategies to ensure long-term sustainability of the coastal ferry network, those in attendance took the opportunity to reiterate their opposition to sailing reductions.
“People pointed out that most of these cuts are happening in the north and that a disproportionate amount of the savings is happening in the north,” said Skeena – Queen Charlotte Regional District Sandspit representative Evan Putterill.
“You can’t just eliminate a service. You should be looking at ways at supplying the service in a less expensive way,” Mayor Carol Kulesha of Queen Charlotte said.
“What we need is to impress upon the province and its elected officials is that this is just not acceptable.”
The first meeting in Haida Gwaii was held in Sandspit on Dec. 2, with Putterill saying more than 100 people showed up and approximately 15 spoke against the reductions.
“The biggest thing people were focusing on was the fact that there was absolutely no economic assessment done on how this would harm communities … the reps there confirmed that was the case and that they really didn’t have a reason for not doing one,” Putterill said, adding the meeting was “disheartening” because there weren’t any answers for people’s questions.
Putterill said the cut in sailings will hit people in Sandspit hard, including those who depend on the Kwuna route to get to work.
“Cutting the Kwuna Ferry will mean many people will not be able to get to work, or won’t be able to work their current hours,” he said, adding the reduction will also mean people won’t be able to participate in community events, meetings or political processes.
Kulesha said between 110 and 120 people attended the consultation in Queen Charlotte on Dec. 3, with a number of them voicing their concerns.
“It was a polite crowd, but there were a lot of feelings about [the cuts] being a destructive move for our economy, health and general well-being,” she said.
Kulesha said concerns heard at the meeting last Tuesday included mail only being delivered to Haida Gwaii once a week, that people needing to visit the orthodontist would see an increase in time and costs associated with travelling to Prince Rupert and the delivery of groceries would be greatly reduced.
“If we miss a sailing, that means we will be waiting another four days with the food sitting in trailers,” she said.
Mayor Kulesha echoed the importance of the Kwuna route.
“People go to work in Sandspit and people from Sandspit come to Queen Charlotte. Kids take the ferry to go to school. That seemed to be the worst cut of all,” Kulesha said.
“If we don’t have Kwuna, we need a bridge.”
Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees said people at Masset’s Dec. 4 meeting were also upset an economic study on the effects of the cuts wasn’t done.
“It was very irresponsible of the government to try to save … but not realize [the savings were] going to hit the coastal communities to a greater extent. There was a lot of upset people and discussion around the failure of the government to do what we thought of as basic things before they would make such a significant decision,” Merilees said.
At the meeting in Masset, Merilees said about 200 people showed up, with a variety of impacts being heard from those in attendance.
“We heard from people that it was going to impact their ability to visit family in Prince Rupert, or elsewhere in the province. We heard it was going to seriously increase costs and hardships for people getting to medical appointments because it is going to extend people’s stays by several days … we also heard from a number of businesses that the changes are going to seriously impact their ability to grow the economies of our small communities,” he said.
Merilees provided updates throughout the meeting through his Twitter account, providing comments from some of the people in attendance.
“You are destroying our way of life here,” said Sharon Mathews of Masset.
All leaders contacted by the Northern View said coastal ferry routes should be treated as part of the highway system and were disappointed Todd Stone, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, didn’t attending any of the consultation meetings last week.
Putterill said he hopes representatives at the meetings in Haida Gwaii relay the message to the minister, one of anger from those living on the islands.
“It’s too bad that the minister didn’t have the guts to come out to one of these communities. He’s the decision maker. I understand ministers are busy people, but it would’ve been good for him to come out to at least one of these meetings in one of the areas being hit hard,” he said.
Kulesha said she personally invites Stone to Haida Gwaii.
“If you’re going to cut off something so important, you should come and talk to the people yourself,” she said.