Adam Olsen says he hopes a petition he presented in the B.C. legislature this week gets the subject of BC Ferries as a Crown corporation back on the table.
However, Olsen and the Green Party caucus will likely face an NDP government with other priorities.
The MLA for Saanich North and the Islands introduced the 16,000-name petition to the legislature on Monday. The petition was led by Jim Abram, a director with the Strathcona Regional District. Olsen said Abram needed an MLA to take the petition to Victoria and as the Green Party’s transportation critic, he was willing.
“I have a similar approach as the one the petition supports,” Olsen told the PNR. “That BC Ferries should be brought back into the (Transportation) Ministry or as a Crown Corporation.”
He said no matter where people fall on the argument, one way or another Island residents are reliant on Ferries and should be able to access them more reasonably. Whether that means making ferry service more of a part of the province’s highway system or tackling its large debt, Olsen said he hopes the petition at least spurs conversation among the parties.
The NDP government, however, isn’t willing to go that far in their current review of BC Ferries. That review does not contain a look at changing the arms-length corporation back to a Crown corporation or a government department. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena told Black Press this week that ferry users, in general, aren’t asking for that.
“They want it to be affordable and accessible running the service they want,” Trevena told reporters at the legislature. “They don’t really care where it is housed as long as it’s affordable and accessible.”
Abram is surprised to hear Trevena make that contention because he says that’s not what he’s hearing.
“I was quite taken aback to see the minister’s governance comments,” Abram said. “The true picture is the people on this coast want to see BC Ferries put back in the ministry so that it will be kept affordable and accessible and cost efficient and all of that. That’s what people are saying on the coast.”
Olsen said the petition is one tool to get the conversation started and highlights that the Green Party is still interested
in having this topic debated. And that would include the current governance model for Ferries and how the province can deal with the large amount of debt carried by BC Ferries — in contrast to bridges and highways in B.C. that do not have the same amount of debt.
Olsen said he doesn’t expect ferry service to be free, but he doesn’t think it should have the “profit driver” in setting rates.
“Certainly the people in my riding, Saanich North and the Islands, the Gulf Islands, consider B.C. Ferries part of their highway system, part of their marine infrastructure, if not highways then certainly marine transit,” Olsen said. “Rather than have B.C. Ferries trying to make profit, it needs to be part of our highway system.”
He asked if BC Ferries was currently serving its purpose — “that’s the question we need to be asking.”
The NDP government accepted the petition for consideration and now Abram and the petition supporters will give them a few days to decide what that means.
“I think within the week, I will be inquiring of the government what is it you are actually doing with the petition,” Abram said.
— with files from Black Press legislative reporter Tom Fletcher and the Campbell River Mirror