Over the course of 90 minutes on Thursday night, representatives from BC Ferries and the Ministry of Transportation were repeatedly told proposed service cuts on the North Coast are simply unacceptable.
The plan unveiled by BC Ferries at the open house includes the elimination of of the Monday night sailing from Prince Rupert to Skidegate and subsequent Tuesday morning sailing from Skidegate to Prince Rupert during the off-peak season and the elimination of the Saturday sailing during the peak season – effectively cutting the schedule to two trips per week during the off-peak schedule and five sailings per week during peak season.
On the Inside Passage, the peak season would be reduced from the current May to September to a seven week window between June and mid-September, and the mid-week sailings during the off-peak season would be eliminated so there is only the weekend sailing.
Mayor Jack Mussallem was first to speak and made it clear any cuts would not be easily pushed on the people of the region, particularly in light of a $24 million agreement between the province and Nexen for land at Grassy Point.
“We’re very resistant to this. We’re very resistant to people who don’t live here coming here and imposing something … we will be asking Premier Clark for reconsideration. I don’t want to insult anyone here, but I’m not really interested in talking to anyone here. We’re going straight to the Premier. This is a political decision, it’s nothing else, and it’s being handled in a very, very poor way. If you were in my shoes, you would understand why we’re objecting to this, why we’re actually insulted by it,” he said, a statement that was supported by Mayor Dave MacDonald of Port Edward.
“This is going to hurt the Charlottes, it is going to hurt everything going on in the north. I can tell you that the District of Port Edward will be with whoever goes to Victoria to see anybody to talk to, and it will not be a friendly conversation,” said Mayor MacDonald.
Along with Mayor Mussallem, several people who addressed the panel reiterated that BC Ferry service is part of the highway system on the North Coast and need to be treated as such.
“What we would like to see is a series of opportunities that would provide us a service, just as it would be a highway service and just as it was previously. We still consider this as a marine highway and extension of highway 16 … you need to cater to the people who live here, who need this service to their benefit,” said Skeena – Queen Charlotte Regional District vice-chair Des Nobles.
“When you talk to the powers that be, really look out for the interests of the North Coast and ask that you passionately and whole-heartedly heard the message that this is our highway system here … I would love to see our ferry system part of the highway system. We know we have to pay for it, but bring it back into the province,” said Rob Eby.
While many pointed to the rising costs of taking the ferry as the reason for the decline, tourism operators said BC Ferries needs to push off any service cuts until 2015.
“We’re marketing the 2015 season. We have completed and have contracts in place for 2014, contracts have been made and signed. We have given out room commitments, we have blocked off rooms for tourism and we should be able to accommodate these things. All those bookings were made on the basis of the published schedule,” said hotel owner Jack Payne.
“Cancellations have already begun and will continue. Other visitors will choose not to book in the first place, choosing destinations that are more readily accessible … the fact that these changes are intended to occur as early as April 2014 will create extraordinary challenges for our partners and the international tour community who already have contracts in place,” said Tourism Prince Rupert chair Scott Farwell.