Hi Steve and Gabriola ferry fighters,
I just wanted to let you know that I did ask the Minister about the bridge study. He says they are still awaiting it. He also said that no bridge would be imposed on the community if it was not wanted. I’m pasting the exchange we had in the Legislature yesterday for your information.
My colleague from Nanaimo–North Cowichan and I presented a petition from people on Gabriola Island who are concerned about the feasibility study for the bridge that has been put together by the ministry, the feasibility study that was commissioned by the ministry.
We were representing Islanders who are concerned that this feasibility study and the idea of a bridge contravene Islands Trust policy and the official community plan. Islands Trust has, obviously, got a very special mandate, and it specifically precludes linking the island with the main island with bridges. So there is both the trust nature and the fact of the local government official community plan.
That being said, we understand the feasibility study is complete. It was going to be complete at the end of February but wasn’t going to be released till the summer. I wonder if the minister would be in a position to release this earlier or at least explain why that study cannot be released until an earlier time.
Hon. T. Stone: …….
Now, on to Gabriola Island and the fixed-link feasibility study. The consultants are still actually working on it. It isn’t finished. We haven’t received a final copy. We, as the member is, are eagerly awaiting its provision to us. I do believe that we should have it — and have it provided to the public, released publicly — certainly, by this summer. I’m hoping early summer, but we’ll see how that goes.
I just wanted to highlight, again, that the intent here is to do a feasibility analysis. Nothing is going to be imposed on the people of Gabriola Island. What we want to do here is based on the fact that we received a tremendous amount of requests from people on Gabriola Island to at least understand what it would cost. What would the cost of a fixed link look like compared to the cost of the provision of continued ferry service?
We determined…. Again, in our effort, consistent with our strategy to embrace every initiative that we possibly can to drive down fares at B.C. Ferries…. If indeed the independent consultants come back and they are able to provide analysis that demonstrates that a fixed-link cost — which would truly be highway, would truly provide highway access to the folks of Gabriola Island — was less expensive over a comparable life in between a highway and a ferry, then why would it not be responsible to have that on the table as part of the overall discussion?
There have been a number of suggestions and ideas provided over the last number of years in terms of driving down pressure on fares. Some have been rejected. Some have been explored and then rejected. This is yet another potential initiative that could help us in our effort — I would say our mutual goal here — of actually driving fares down at B.C. Ferries.
Once we have the report — hopefully, by this summer — we will make that report public. I hope it plays some role in helping to inform the broader discussion. As I said a moment ago, there will be no forcing upon the people of Gabriola Island a fixed link, if that is not what the folks of the island want. But we do think it’s important to have those facts out on the table, and that will inform the discussion likewise.
C. Trevena: It’s very interesting that the minister is so quick to act on a petition of 600 names, when there have been many petitions with thousands of names concerned about the direction B.C. Ferries is going and the cost of B.C. Ferries. The minister talks very often about driving down fares and making it sustainable.
There are ways of increasing usership of B.C. Ferries, which would fill the vessels to capacity, all the vessels to capacity. That would be just by unilateral reduction or freezing of fares to get more people using the ferries, and the revenues of B.C. Ferries would go up. If there was also greater government investment in B.C. Ferries, that would also be able to reduce the costs on those people and those businesses that are reliant on B.C. Ferries.
I have been speaking for nearly an hour and a half and have not gone into the real economic impact on communities. We’ve had this discussion many times about the need to be investing in B.C. Ferries and ensuring that people can afford to use them, that the fares are reasonable