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Adding 'public interest' to ferry act unnecessary: Minister Bond

British Columbia Transportation Minister Shirley Bond is defending the decision not to add a “public interest” goal into the legislation governing the province's ferry system.

“I think we are adding additional accountability and transparency and certainly one of the things the commissioner will now be expected to do, for example, is post information about the information around the fare cap discussion and he will be inviting public commentary,” Bond said in an interview last week.

Changes to the Coastal Ferry Act announced April 29 will make B.C. Ferries subject to freedom of information legislation and will cap the earnings of future executives.

The changes, while received by many as a step forward, fall short of the action suggested by Comptroller General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland and desired by the Ferry Advisory Committee Chairs.

“There is a risk that a focus on the profitability or sustainability of the ferry operator exclusively could be at the expense of the public service mandate of the ferry system,” Wenezenki-Yolland wrote in a report released last November. “To ensure appropriate attention is placed on all intended objectives the province should clarify its expectations, communicate them publicly, and ensure they are incorporated clearly in the B.C. Ferries governance framework and corresponding legislation.”

Last week the FACC criticized Bond for failing to add to the Coastal Ferry Act a seventh principle that would make it clear that the ferry commissioner should take the public interest into account when making decisions.

Bond said adding a principle to the act is unnecessary. “Certainly underwritten in the legislation is that there be consideration of the public interest,” she said. “I think we've moved a long way in the direction of what the Ferry Advisory Committees are interested in seeing.”

She looks forward to receiving more input from the FACC in the weeks ahead, she said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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