A regional director who has been vocal about his desire to see BC Ferries brought under Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure control is hoping the support of 10,000 fellow coast-dwellers will be enough to convince the provincial government to look at that option.
Jim Abram is the Strathcona Regional District director representing the Discovery Islands and Mainland Inlets. He is also the SRD’s representative on the Regional District Ferry Chairs Group and he took issue with the provincial government’s announcement that while they would launch a review of the coastal ferry system beginning this month, that review wouldn’t include looking into whether to bring it back under the government’s control.
That response prompted North Island MLA and Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena to pen a letter saying, in part, that, “To jump to conclusions, tear up the legislation, turn back the clock to the 1970’s and demand that BC Ferries be brought into the Ministry of Transportation without first doing a thorough examination of the challenges and finding ways to improve the existing model would be irresponsible.”
But Abram is confident that the voices of thousands of people will hold some sway over the review. A petition has been launched on Change.org asking Premier John Horgan to at least consider bringing the ferry system back under government control. The petition had almost 10,000 signatures on it as of Jan. 4.
“I’ve been sending the updated versions of the petition to the premier, periodically,” Abram says. “The goal was to reach 5,000 signatures before Christmas, and we met that goal and sent it to the premier on Christmas Eve along with a diplomatic and friendly email.”
The goal then became to have 7,500 by the start of 2018, which was easily surpassed, as well.
“I’ve known John Horgan for many years and I’ve considered him a friend for many years,” Abram says. “I’m hoping to get an MLA to present that petition to the sitting Legislature and that he’ll have something to say about it.”
At the rate it’s being signed, Abram says, he thinks it may get up to 15,000 signatures on it “by the time they sit in February.”
Abram says the popularity of the petition should show the government that the governance model of the coastal ferry system needs to be part of the review.
“Comprehensive means comprehensive. They keep saying over and over again and saying this is a ‘soup to nuts’ review, but it’s not, I’m sorry, if it doesn’t cover governance. Anybody that doesn’t see that the structure of the corporation and the governance of that corporation should be the primary focus (of the review) has blinders on.”
As for those who say that those in coastal communities chose to live there, so they shouldn’t complain about how ferries operate, Abram says, “the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure covers everything else in the province – all of the highways, all of the bridges, all of the plowing, all of the pothole filling, all of the tunnels and all the inland ferries and yet it doesn’t cover a major part of our coastal highways?
“We should all be treated the same. We all pay through provincial taxation for Fort St. John’s snowplowing, and I’ve never been there. This is the same thing. I’m not asking for free ferries, I’m asking that we all pay for it, the same way that we all pay for everything else.”
But how confident is he that a public petition will have any effect on how the government will address the situation?
“I want them to at least ask the question, and I am assuming that intelligent people, if they look at the past and how we’re doing it now, will say, ‘yeah, we were doing it better back then,'” Abram says. “And these are intelligent, reasonable people, and they sit at the provincial government level having previously been at the local government level, so they know that you have to listen to what your constituents say, or you won’t be there for very long. I think they will look at it and re-jig the terms of reference (of the review) when they see it’s what the people want.
“They may not, but I have great hope that they will.”