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Government accountability for BC Ferries must be maintained, BC Green MLA says

Adam Olsen says oversight board has power to issue directives, but also to point fingers
Standing near the BC Ferries terminal in Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen largely questions proposed changes to legislation governing B.C. Ferries, but also finds some positives. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen questions proposed changes to BC Ferries, which he says leave the province with an out valve when it comes to management of the company.

Olsen said the Coastal Ferry Amendment Act, tabled earlier this month, gives the government more power to issue directives on one hand, but on the other, does not increase government accountability, which remains with BC Ferries Corporation.

“So it’s sort of a re-nationalization. They have given themselves some plausible deniability. They can say ‘do this.’ And if the outcome is bad, they can stand back and say, ‘it was poorly executed,’” Olsen said.

The Vancouver Island-based MLA’s comments came after the province recently tabled changes to the oversight of B.C. Ferries in the legislature.

The changes call for a government-appointed oversight board, the B.C. Ferry Authority, to supervise the largely independent board of directors set up by the previous B.C. Liberal government. The legislation requires B.C. Ferries to hand over any information requested by the B.C. Ferry Authority, designated as the corporation’s only shareholder.

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While media analysts have called the move a re-nationalization by stealth to the detriment of independent governance – something the province denies – the opposition B.C. Liberals fear a return to the days of the NDP government ordering the local construction of expensive, ultimately unusable fast ferries. New Democrats, for their part, say the proposed changes build on earlier changes promising to improve strategic oversight of B.C. Ferries.

“The changes will enable the authority to issue binding resolutions on matters it considers in the public interest,” said a release announcing the changes. “Changes also require the B.C. Ferry Authority to consult with the Public Sector Employers Council and develop executive compensation plans, to ensure BC Ferries’ executive compensation levels do not exceed those provided to similar executives in the B.C. public sector.”

Questions remain for Olsen.

“One of the things I would like to get defined is what the government considers the public interest, because that has to be defined,” he said.

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Olsen acknowledged that the proposed legislation may potentially improve reconciliation with First Nations, by allowing for more direct contact around land issues, given that many ferry terminals lie near traditional fishing villages.

“However, the accountability is the issue,” he said.

He also criticized the prevailing spirit guiding the strategic management of the ferry system, which he said places profit motives ahead of transportation needs.

This said, he isn’t sure whether the proposed legislative changes will have any effect on day-to-day travel.

“From a practical perspective, BC Ferries has been undertaking a very aggressive capital plan to streamline the number of classes of vessels that they own, so that they can streamline the types of terminals they build, so that you can be more flexible in moving one ferry from here to there without worrying about the terminal and vessel being incompatible with each other.”

With the operation running fairly efficiently and being pretty well managed in recent years, he said, “this (change) is about the provincial government being able to have a say, rightly or wrongly, and directing what BC Ferries’ operations must be.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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