Thursday, September 15, 2005

Now hear me out on this. I love the BC Ferries.

(Bowen Islanders are now staring at their screens in disbelief).

I love the Queen of Capilano, I love the inconvenience of taking a boat to get to the continent, I love the ferry workers for their general cheerful demeanour, and their ability to load cars like a jigsaw puzzle to get as many people on as they can. No question that BC Ferries has its problems, but I live on an island, and I have developed a pretty good "forgiveness" capacity. If you can't forgive BC Ferries its problems, you are going to drive yourself nuts around here.

Having said that, there is a part of BC Ferries that has always come across as "dark" to me. The upper echelons of decision making in the corporation have always seemed less open, less accessible and less responsive to the concerns of local ferry users and even more so since BC Ferries ceased being a Crown corporation and became some kind of quasi-private company. Since then it's been really weird.

Now, we've been having our fair share of ferry marshaling issues over the years and some of them have been downright hot. We are certainly in need of a larger ferry because Bowen isn't getting any smaller population-wise. BC Ferries knows this, and they have made a big stink over the past couple of years about going out to buy a new boat for the Bowen run.

Today comes word (from Powell River no less) that the corporation is having trouble negotiating for the contract on the new ferry because among other things "The infrastructure hasn't been upgraded to accommodate the larger vessel."

This is true. We are a small island municipality and it has been shown that creating a two lane loading situation in our village as it is currently constituted is downright impossible. We do have two lane unloading at the moment however.

There are solutions to this problem and every Bowen Islander has their pet ideas, and they are all expensive. The longer term and more effective the proposal, the more expensive it is. What has been missing though has been the participation of BC Ferries. As I understand it, the Corporation has not been at all interested in participating with our island in constructing a new facility. So without the new loading infrastructure, no new ferry.

There are probably 2800 property tax paying households on Bowen. That is not a lot of folks. Construction of a new facility could be a nice partnership between various levels of government if only folks saw the ferry system as part of the highway system. But apparently that isn't the case, and it really hasn't ever been the case.

Now get me straight on this. I don't necessarily want a bigger ferry here right away. I think that we haven't explored the options of foot passenger ferries deeply enough. I think there are many other things we can do to facilitate the movement of people across the Queen Charlotte Channel. What is need though is an approach from BC Ferries that is more pro-active than the one they are taking, and more pro-active of all levels of government including our own.

I think it might be time to bring together Bowen Island Municipality, BC Ferries, the provincial government, the GVRD, Translink and others, including ferry users and Bowen businesses to seriously imagine our way into the next period of growth on Bowen. And I don't mean a one time thing - I mean an ongoing dialogue around these issues so that we can discuss them in a way that leads to better thinking than simply issuing press releases washing your hands of the local situation. Expecting immediate responses to long term growth issues from any party in this situation is ridiculous. We can't expect a bigger ferry overnight. BC Ferries can't expect a new facility tomorrow. So let's drop the rhetoric and hunker down to some real work on coping with ongoing, and constantly emerging challenge.

We are all in this together. Together we have to find a way forward. If anyone wants to get this kind of a process started, give me a call.