B.C. eyes ferry gambling, slashes sailings

Cover story published in 24 Hours Vancouver | November 19, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+

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B.C. Ferries will eliminate 6,895 coastal sailings and slash seniors discounts to cut costs, the province revealed Monday.

Along with cost-saving measures came a proposal to make revenue from on-board gambling such as slot machines.

“The minister is missing the big picture,” said Hornby Island resident Tony Law, a co-chair of the province’s Ferry Advisory Committee. “These are not actually solving the problem. For two decades, the ministry has tried to get away with underfunding B.C. Ferries to the point where now it is facing a crunch.”

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said that after two decades of “cost pressures,” the province must cut nearly $19 million in costs over two years to meet its targets.

“We are making tough decisions today to ensure that our coastal ferry service is sustainable for future generations,” Stone said.

Now the province is seeking feedback until Dec. 20, although a plan to replace free weekday passenger fares for seniors with a 50% discount is not negotiable, Scott said.

BC NDP ferries critic Claire Trevena pounced on the sailing cuts, saying they prove the government doesn’t understand the coastal economy or how important ferries are to communities.

“The BC Liberal government has finally admitted it’s written off coastal communities and the coastal economy by doing this,” she told 24 hours. “Basically, it’s just saying, ‘We don’t look at the province as a whole, but in isolated pieces. The coast doesn’t count.’”

Scott admitted there will be “some pain” from the announcement, but stressed the massive funding crunch faced by the semi-private corporation was unsustainable.

“When you approach a change of this magnitude, the only way to do it is look people in eyes and talk to them about why it’s necessary,” he said.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s B.C. director Jordan Bateman praised attempts to consolidate underused sailings — many below 20% full— but criticized the government for losing its “moral authority” after placing only slight limits on B.C. Ferries’ executive bonuses and pay.

He also questioned the idea of “mini-casinos” on board, a sign the province is “addicted to gambling revenue.” The proposal will be piloted aboard the Tsawassen-Swartz Bay route.

“You’re in confined quarters with families,” he said. “We do applaud the government for looking for new revenue-generating ideas, and we’d hate to stamp out their creativity, but it’s no way to go.”

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