The B.C. Liberals are reviving horror stories of the 1990s “fast ferries” that were sold off for pennies on the dollar, as the NDP government tightens control over the B.C. Ferry Corporation to increase the “public interest” considerations for its operation.
“This should be terrifying for British Columbians,” B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said March 3. “I’m old enough to remember the $500 million fast ferries fiasco, which resulted in the building of several ships that were completely unusable, because of the NDP’s direction to the ferry company that they had to build these ferries and they somehow fancied themselves boat-builders.
“And those ferries still sit unused in the United Arab Emirates. They’ve been an embarrassment everywhere they’ve gone in the world.”
A bill tabled in the B.C. legislature this week makes changes to the ferry corporation’s oversight, to increase the powers of a government-appointed oversight board called the B.C. Ferry Authority that supervises the largely independent board of directors set up by the previous B.C. Liberal government. The legislation requires B.C. Ferries to hand over any information the B.C. Ferry Authority wants, designating it as the sole shareholder of the ferry corporation.
Premier John Horgan said Thursday his government has no aspirations to take direct control of B.C. Ferries, which continues to have new vessels constructed in Europe.
“We have no interest in managing the day-to-day activities of the B.C. Ferry Corp,” Horgan said March 3. “What we do believe as the lone shareholder that we have an obligation to coastal communities and ferry-dependent communities to make sure they know they have some say through their elected representatives, not as drivers of the administration and operations of the service, but to ensure that these basic public tests are met.”
In its first term, the NDP government restored some of the low-ridership ferry routes that had been cut in a major review overseen by then-transportation minister Todd Stone in 2014. NDP minister Claire Trevena also capped fare increases and restored free weekday sailings for seniors, and increased the B.C. taxpayer subsidy to B.C. Ferries by $5.8 million in 2019.