B.C. Ferries and the provincial economy

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) introduced the details of their latest major policy report yesterday, Boatswains to the Bollards: A Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of BC Ferries, prepared by Peter Larose of Larose Research and Strategy.

This impact analysis investigates chronic government mismanagement of the B.C. Ferries corporation, arguing that fare hikes and service reductions over a 10-year period have cost the provincial economy over $2 billion and eroded a world-class ferry system, threatening its long-term viability.

Larose’ analysis demonstrates that lost revenue due to B.C. Ferries fare increases have affected industries province-wide, including accommodation, retail trade, construction and manufacturing.

Last week, Minister of Transportation Todd Stone stepped away from a long tradition of mutual respect between the province and local governments. He attacked the credibility of Larose, the UBCM and the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), calling the report “sensational” and “unsubstantiated”.

During the presentation Larose did well not to be dragged into the mud-slinging and politics, and stood by his findings. He even addressed each of the various criticisms leveled at his work by the Minister and stated emphatically that his work was reviewed by his peers who suggested that it is very likely that his findings are actually too conservative – because of the limited scope of his study, the negative economic impact on the entire province could be much greater.

On Monday, we heard about the ‘provincial opportunity’ presented by liquefied natural gas (LNG). We heard that these investments in northern British Columbia will benefit the entire provincial economy. Hon. Rich Coleman, Minister responsible for the natural gas file, told us that the economic opportunity of LNG is so far reaching, even blueberry farmers in the Fraser Valley would reap economic benefits because skilled trades workers love fresh fruit!

What is ironic and inconsistent, is that the B.C. government readily see the indirect or induced province-wide economic benefit of an LNG industry, but does not acknowledge the indirect or induced province-wide economic benefit of a robust ferry system.

It is important that people in the Lower Mainland and the interior, northern and eastern British Columbia understand the impact of decisions to increase fares and cut ferry service to coastal British Columbia. The impact is not isolated to the coast, it hurts everyone.

It is unclear what motivates Minister Stone and the B.C. Liberal cabinet to make such incredibly short-sighted and counter-productive decisions on B.C. Ferries. Perhaps he needs to meet with Minister Coleman to develop some consistency in their analysis.

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