After being denied a meeting with the Premier regarding BC Ferries service cuts, the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District (SQCRD) is seeking support from local government bodies across the province to get one.
“I think the government has tried to shield themselves from hearing [concerns of BC Ferries cuts] first hand. I think they need to hear them first hand; It may make a difference,” Evan Putterill, director of Electoral Area E or Sandpit, said.
The decision to generate province-wide support for a joint meeting with B.C. Premier Christy Clark came after the SQCRD was denied its own meeting with the Premier earlier this month.
“Unfortunately, my schedule will not afford me the opportunity to meet with you on this matter in the foreseeable future,” read the letter signed by Clark.
“I have shared your correspondence with the Honourable Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. Minister Todd Stone is awaiting the completion of the community engagement process before determining what the next steps should be regarding ferry services,” the memo also read.
Prince Rupert-representative Anna Ashley said the decline is “a slap in the face to every single community that relies on ferries” and “to the entire tourism industry” of B.C.
“For her to say she doesn’t have time to meet with us is ridiculous. I don’t think we should just sit back and wait. We need to do something,” Ashley said.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself the BC Ferry Coalition is also working against the cuts, with the group’s spokesperson Jef Keighley speaking to the regional district on Friday.
Keighley told the SQCRD about what the group has been doing to prevent service reductions, including a rally held in January that more than 2,400 people attended, a petition and letter-writing campaign against the proposed cuts and fare increases. Keighley asked the regional district to support the BC Ferry Coalition in its future efforts that will include a day of action in coastal communities at an upcoming date to be announced.
The SQCRD board agreed to support the coalition, but Ashley questioned why the group isn’t trying to force a meeting with Clark.
“It doesn’t matter how many letters you send, [the provincial government] just doesn’t listen,” she said.
Putterill agreed and said the regional district should push for a separate meeting from the BC Ferry Coalition.
“I think there’s a better chance that a coalition of First Nations and local government elected officials will be able to get a meeting than a grassroots organization,” he said.
The SQCRD will send letters to British Columbian municipalities, regional districts and First Nations governments requesting local governments support them in demanding a joint meeting with the Premier. The letters will also encourage governments to support the BC Ferry Coalition in its efforts.
Minister Stone and BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan announced the reductions in November, which would include 39 fewer sailings of the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy Inside Passage in 2014, and one less sailing per week between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. Between the two routes, BC Ferries expects to save a combined $2.86 million per year.
At the meeting, the regional district officially stated it is categorically opposed to the position the province has taken in terms of ferry service to coastal British Columbia.