Ferry stakeholders get few promises

No firm commitment given to real public consultation

by Luz Budzinski

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, January 30th 1998, p2: with permission)

The West Coast Ferry Users Group (formerly known as the B.C. Ferry Corporation Stakeholders Delegates) met with John Fryer in Nanaimo on January 21 and 22.

This meeting was called by Fryer to deal with the remaining part of his mandate from the first meeting: The Stakeholders Process.

A Policy Paper for the Jan 22 meeting was worked out amongst the group the previous day.

The position with respect to tariffs and rollbacks be the retention of a hard line position that any tariff modifications comply with the directions of the stakeholders process.

In order to validate the stakeholder process, the West Coast Ferry Users Group requires the following commitment from cabinet:

  1. Total rollback of the November 14 fare increase, and a fare freeze pending the outcome of renewed discussions with the stakeholders.
        Fryer felt that his mandate for this meeting was to concentrate on the re-start of the stakeholder process. He pleaded our case before the minister. The minister made a decision (Dec. 23) the case is closed, but Fryer indicated his willingness to, again, try to convince the minister of the need of the total rollback. A number of routes do not have discount ticket books or they are not affordable to a number of people.
  2. Recognition by the government that the coastal ferry system is part of the provincial highway system.
        Fryer again stated that this demand was not part of his mandate but was willing to introduce it to the minister. (The State of Alaska is treating its ferry routes as extension of their highway system and uses the 60/40 per cent formula—Users pay 60 per cent, State 40 per cent of the overall cost of running this system).
  3. Full independent investigative value for money audit of B.C. Ferries.
        Fryer (see b) stated that this was not his mandate but was willing to put this in front of the minister. He commented that Tom Ward's reaction was positive, that he was “interested in having it”. Furthermore, Fryer felt this audit could be the base of a future subsidy.
    1. Formal recognition by cabinet of the stakeholder process through negotiated comprehensive terms of reference.
    2. Commitment by the government to address the issues as presented by the stakeholder group.
    3. Initiation of ongoing four party discussion among stakeholders, B.C. Ferries, unions and the minister responsible for B.C. Ferries.
i. Fryer is doubtful that cabinet would give the stakeholder this much “rope”. The delegates felt that this commitment by cabinet is of the utmost importance to this process, without this and comprehensive terms of reference this process will be of little value to any party involved.

ii. Presently the minister's and senior minister Management's impressions are that the stakeholders should concentrate their efforts on tarrifs and services.

iii. This approach has been tried with limited success at the Oct. 22 and 23 Cost Allocation Committee Meeting. The union came at short notice, the government was absent.

In my opinion it would be a waste of time to continue the stakeholder process the way it is presently set up. There is no firm commitment in the form of a mandate and generic terms of reference by either the corporation or the government. Unless this is forthcoming, there is no real chance of substantial change within the corporation.

John Fryer was receptive to the proposals put forward by the stakeholders and undertook to convey them to the Minister in his final [report] due end of January. To change a 37-year-old corporate culture, government playing monopoly with the corporation, unions having an easy time to further their agenda, a board of directors blissfully unaware of what is happening around them, will be a tremendous task for anyone.

Bowen Island was until now part of the Howe Sound/Sunshine Coast Stakeholder/Operation and Scheduling Committee which is a rarity amongst all stakeholder committees and has been working well. The stakeholder process in this area came to a complete standstill since the move of the Sunshine Coast route to the commercial group. Once again the corporation went out and made a major operational change without any consultation with the stakeholders, without having a [detailed plan] to, at least, share with the stakeholders. All this is more reason to insist on a complete review of the stakeholder process involving the three parties: Government, Corporation and Stakeholders.

We finished the Howe Sound/Sunshine Coast 10-year Strategic Plan in November 1996. I would like to suggest that we begin asking the corporation to finally provide us with the second analysis of the four vessel operations and an executive summary of this plan.

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