Friday, December 12, 2003

Those of you who read this blog regularly or who may be familiar with British Columbia will know that we are currently in the midst of a ferry strike, which means at this point, there is no ferry to or from Bowen Island, and we all have to rely on water taxis to get where we are going. It's a curious situation from a community standpoint, one of the those defining moments that marks a certain period in Bowen history. Years from now people will say "Were you on the island during the strike in 2003?" in the same way as they say "Were you around in 1990 for the week long power failure?"

Anyway, for those of you interested in what life's been like, here's a bit of chronology:

Last weekend

BC Ferries and it's union reached a stalemate in their bargaining and the union indicated on the weekend that it would strike the ferry system. This meant that service would be reduced to essential sailing schedules, designed to offer the minimum required service for island communities off the BC Coast. For Bowen, this meant losing only 3 sailings, but it meant that on Monday the last ferry would leave the mainland at 6:30.

Unluckily for me, this is the first week in 2.5 years of living here that I had to be in town every day. So I went into one-sailing-at-a-time mode.


On Monday I had a meeting in town all day, and so not knowing what the situation would be, I left the island at 5:35am. I had a lot of time to kill before my meeting began at 9:00am so I parked at Spanish Banks in Vancouver and listened to the radio. There was lots of confusion at the major terminals on the routes across the Strait of Georgia. Some sailing were cancelled because of disputes over crews assigned by the union or accepted by the company. It's really impossible to say.

However, the union did say that they would be lifting the picket on the smaller runs, like Bowen and the Gulf Islands and that we would have full ferry services restored on Tuesday. They still planned to picket the major routes.

I got out of my meeting in time to get the 5:35pm sailing home. No problem.


On Tuesday I bussed into town, sailing off Bowen on the 6:35am sailing. My meeting ended at noon and I headed back to Horseshoe Bay for the 2:35pm sailing to Bowen. When I got there around 2:00pm the situation was ugly. A group of passengers who had been stranded overnight and had been waiting nearly 24 hours to go home to Nanaimo had blockaded earlier Bowen and Langdale ferries and would let them unload. It was tense as there were cars parked all over the marshalling area and foot passengers confronting traffic.

At 2:15 or so an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the provincial minister of labour, Graham Bruce, had called for an 80 day cooling off period during which full service needed to be restored and the existing contract would be honoured. However, only a few minutes prior to this, the union and the company had actually reached an agreement on how to manage the essential services issues that had gummed up the service on Monday.

Our ferry services was already fully restored but after the Minister became involved, the union got angry and vowed to walk completely off the job.

I got home fine, and the pumped up crowd who had got their way also made a 3:00pm sailing to Nanaimo, but I wondered at what cost.


We found out the cost on Wednesday. I had an afternoon meeting, so the whole family traveled into town on the 10:35am sailing. The ferry workers on board were wearing orange buttons which said "Shut It Down" and they told us they were probably walking off the job at noon.

We proceeded to town, did a big shop and subsequently discovered that they had indeed shut the ferry system down. There was no way to get home except by water taxi, but the kids were tired and suffering a little from colds so we stayed in town at Caitlin's parent's place last night.


Still no boast running, but the excellent folks at Cormorant marine were running the water taxis to Bowen, so I dropped the kids and Caitlin off at the government dock in Horseshoe Bay and headed back to town for a noon meeting. I was finished in time for the 2:35pm water taxi, but I had to leave the car with a trunk full of groceries on the other side. I managed to stuff a knapsack full of mandarins and broccoli and and few other perishables.

All this time, Islanders had been coping fairly well. Al Leigh, the owner of the gas station barged over a fuel truck and a truck full of food got towed over too. Several people like me had cars stranded on the continent, so there was lots of hitch hiking going on. Peter King the bus driver made a special trip out to Tunstall Bay to pick up my family who were visiting friends there and he drove them down to the Cove. The Bowen spirit flowed beautifully yesterday.


It's early Friday morning and I'm still preparing for a full day meeting tomorrow. There is no end in sight for the complete strike, although the company has a court date tomorrow to get the service restored. I'll head down to the dock early and hop a water taxi to try to get to my meeting on time and play it by ear.

For all the news, check these sites:

I'll post again when I get a chance.