BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said her party would restore BC Ferries to the status of a Crown corporation if elected to government on Oct. 24.
She denounced the current for-profit motive while speaking in the Brentwood Bay neighbourhood of Central Saanich on Oct. 19 with the Mill Bay ferry as a backdrop and incumbent Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen at her side. Furstenau said a non-profit approach toward the ferry service under a Crown corporation governance model would place the needs of residents ahead of profits.
In 2003, the BC Liberals converted the BC Ferries from a Crown corporation created in 1960 into a half-public, half-private company with the provincial government as the sole shareholder.
The provincial ferry system is an “essential” part of the provincial transportation network like roads and bridges that connects communities and generates “significant” part of the provincial economy, she said, adding later that the provincial ferry system needs to put a greater emphasis on multi-modality to help reduce the provincial carbon footprint.
“If we are focused on BC Ferries being a Crown corporation, then the goal is not to generate profit, the goal is to generate service,” she said. “Our transporation is part of a service that government provides to every citizen in B.C. and every citizen should count on that service being as efficient, reliant, and affordable as possible.”
Furstenau later denounced the general erosion of service levels, but could not give concrete answers to the question of how a change in governance would improve service.
“People are feeling less and less served by the ferry system, so what we need to get to is a place where people feel that this service is actually meeting their needs and serving first and foremost, and then we measure our outcomes, based on how well we are getting to that place where people’s needs are being served,” she said. “It’s a shift in how we approach the question of our ferry system.”
When asked again for specifics, Furstenau said the change would improve passenger-ferry service, reliability, accessibility and customer services in areas such as reservations. “We have to make sure that residents in all coastal communities can count on their ferries to serve them,” she said.
Furstenau’s call unfolded against the backdrop of BC Ferries suffering massive financial losses, which executives have blamed on COVID-19. Net earnings for the fiscal year of 2020 ending March 31 fell to $28.8 million from $52.2 million in 2019, losses that will likely see taxpayers help pick up the tab through emergency relief support. BC Ferries also carries debt worth $1.4 billion.
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