The Island Aurora, a new hybrid-electric vessel built in Romania joined the BC Ferries fleet amid controversy in June. (BC Ferries)

The Island Aurora, a new hybrid-electric vessel built in Romania joined the BC Ferries fleet amid controversy in June. (BC Ferries)

Canadian Ferry Association cautions against politicizing BC Ferry operations

Reasonable safety, not politicized safety way to go, Canadian Ferry Association says

The Canadian Ferry Association has joined the discussion about crew size on the new BC Ferries in the region’s waters, saying safety decisions and business operations should not be politicized.

Two new boats joined BC Ferries’ fleet in late June, with slick paint jobs, hybrid engines, automated systems, and one to two fewer crew that the 50-year-old boats they replaced. They sail between Texada Island and Powell River on the mainland, and from Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island to Alert Bay and Sointula. Each of these remote communities relies heavily on ferry service.

Public reaction to the reduced crew sizes was immediate, raising questions of safety and jobs.

The BC Ferry & Marine Workers Union filed a request for judicial review of Transport Canada’s safe manning certificates, arguing the crew of five are unable to complete the emergency drills in the allotted time. The Texada Island Chamber of Commerce wrote a lengthy letter raising similar concerns of safety, as well as the social and economic impact the loss of jobs would have on the island community.

Taking up these issues, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney wrote a letter to the federal Minister of Transportation requesting that he review his department’s decision to approve five-person crews.

That’s when Canadian Ferry Association’s CEO Serge Buy stepped in, with his main concern being that decisions made by experts should not be politicized. He wrote a letter to Blaney to this effect.

If there are legitimate questions about safety, they would be better addressed had the MP reached out to BC Ferries and the union directly, saying, ‘This is what I’m hearing, I want to get some information,’ Buy told the VI Free Daily. Putting political pressure on a decision made by experts is disrespectful, he added.

“As Canadian Ferry Association, I would never be pushing for lower safety standards. I just want reasonable safety, not politicized safety.”

READ MORE: MP asks Minister of Transport for review of safe crew levels on new ferries

READ MORE: Concerns raised about crew numbers for new BC Ferries

He pointed to BC Ferries’ safety record, saying aside from the Queen of the North incident more than 10 years ago, BC Ferries has a world-class safety record.

“That’s a testament to their focus on safety, so let’s give them a chance to answer these questions.”

BC Ferries already has far higher crew levels than ferries in European countries with strong safety records, he said.

As for the jobs, Buy said, “Ferries are not there to create employment in the local communities – they are there to deliver people and goods.”

In a detailed letter to BC Ferries and several politicians, the Texada Island Chamber of Commerce complained that the loss of jobs, explained as “‘operational efficiencies on an innovative vessel” looks like the loss of two family-supporting salaries for the island.

“We need those families to keep the number of kids in our on-island school. We need people with healthy salaries to keep spending money in our local economy. We need the young working people to support their aging relatives to stay at home for as long as possible, since we don’t have a seniors’ residence on the island,” wrote chamber president Cindy Babyn.

But Buy said, “I get that ferries are a way of life in some places in B.C., just like we love to hate the Toronto Transit Commission, but maintaining artificial crewing levels because of political pressure is not the way to run a business.”

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