Government defeats attempt to freeze ferry fares

The Liberal government thwarted attempts by local MLA, Gary Coons, and the rest of the NDP opposition to make changes to legislation introduced last week that would lower the cap on any increase on ferry fares to only 4.15 per cent. Coons and the rest of his party attempted to amend the bill so that it would freeze all fares where they are for the time being.

For the past several months, residents in northern BC who depend on the ferry service were facing the possibility of large increases in fares. BC Ferries originally wanted to raise fares along northern routes by over 25 per cent for four years, meaning that a trip from the Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert could have doubled by 2016.

Then in April, the BC ferry commissioner put the fears of a doubling of prices by then deciding that minor routes could only have their fares raised by 8.23 per cent a year. But the routes going Vancouver Island could raise theirs by only 4.15 per cent. The Liberal’s new legislation would get rid of this two-tier system and limit any prince increase in 2012 to just 4.15 per cent no mater what route.

In the legislature, Coons, who is also the ferry critic, proposed an amendment that would not allow any fare increases until the ferry commissioner finishes a review of the relationship between BC Ferries and the government, the legislation that governs it, and how the system could be changed to save money.

Transport minister Blaire Lekstrom said that freezing fares does not make financial sense.

“I think most British Columbians recognize today that these are financially difficult times. I think the member (Coons) would concur with that . . . although zero is a nice number, which means the rates would be frozen, it just was not achievable nor responsible,” Lekstrom told the legislature.

The fare freeze was put to a vote and was defeated along party lines.

Coons says that he had a list of other amendments for the legislation that included mandatory public consultation meetings which the previous ferry commissioner was opposed to, and even a definition of  “the public interest” that would require the commission to do what’s best for communities. These amendments did not pass the vote.

The Liberals used their majority in the house to pass a cloture motion to stop further debate on the bill, thus killing the amendments before they were even voted on. Coons says that the government has been using cloture motions to rush most of their new bills through the legislature after they decided to shorten the sitting by a couple weeks.

“When we came down here for our five weeks they said ‘oh, there’s going to be about six bills,’ and we’ve had about 18 or 20. Including this key ferry legislation…And they just put closures on the majority,” says Coons.