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Tough BC Ferries decisions delayed until after election

The government is unlikely to make any decisions about cutting BC Ferries' service levels before the May 14 election, British Columbia's transportation and infrastructure minister Mary Polak said today.

"It's not likely there would be any announcements around which service reductions would be made," said Polak. "There is a lot of work that still needs to be done."

Nor is the government likely to be able to meet a June 30 deadline to advise BC Ferries on which routes or sailings it plans to cut from its contract.

"Not likely that we'll be able to complete the work that needs to be done, so we'll be discussing with BC Ferries how we operate in terms of a possible extension for that and what that means in terms of what the province's contribution might be," she said.

Polak made the comments while releasing the results of a consultation and engagement process that took place through the fall of 2012. That process, launched amid much fanfare, included 40 meetings in 30 communities and an invitation for written submissions.

The government was looking to cut $26 million over three years, but said it needed to consult ferry users on where those cuts should be.

Ministry staff will continue reviewing the submissions and discussing reductions with communities, Polak said. "Much of it was not unexpected. People concerned that fares are too high, at the same time not wanting to see reductions in service."

The New Democratic Party's ferries critic, Maurine Karagianis, said whoever forms government after the election will have to do a serious evaluation of BC Ferries and today's report will be little help.

"It tells us what British Columbians know already that the government appears not to have known," she said. "The ferries are considered an essential service by coastal communities and ferry dependent communities."

The report speaks to the failed privatization plan, which has had BC Ferries go into deep debt as ridership has dropped and fares have soared, she said. "There is nothing coming out of this report that has a clear recommendation."

The government's decision to review rather than act is similar to what they've done with BC Hydro and other Crown corporations, she said. "They went through processes here to stave off decision making until after the election."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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