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BC Ferries refused Tyee access to public records

Provincial law says meeting minutes for the B.C. Ferry Authority must be open to anyone who asks to see them, but the agency refused this week to open them to the Tyee.

"That's just what I've been instructed," said Susan Lameye, an assistant to Cynthia Lukaitis, the vice president and corporate secretary for B.C. Ferry Services Inc..

Lukaitis had earlier approved access to the minutes, but in a phone message Lameye said, "Apparently you won't be able to review the minutes for at least another week." That would push the release to at least two days after the May 12 provincial election.

Liberal Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon, who is running for re-election in Surrey-Cloverdale, said the law clearly says the minutes should be available and he did not know why B.C. Ferries would refuse access to them.

The Authority became contentious a year ago when the NDP raised questions in the legislature about board members giving themselves a raise despite records showing many meetings were very short. Minutes for one meeting, for example, show each member received a $750 stipend for a 20-minute conference call.

The NDP also had difficulty getting the Authority's meeting minutes, said the party's ferries critic and North Coast incumbent Gary Coons.

"We had to go down to the office and wait while they were xeroxed and go through a lot of hoops to get to the information," he said. "We just think that B.C. Ferries should be more accessible, especially because it's taxpayer money, and the single voting share is held by the Minister of Transportation."

The NDP promised in its election platform to bring B.C. Ferries under closer government control.

Falcon said B.C. Ferries has enough oversight. "I think the ultimate accountability for the public is two things: one, how the corporation is being operated, which I think can be seen from the level of service being provided, and two, how the corporation is doing financially."

The B.C. government spends some $150 million a year on B.C. Ferries.

The government created the Authority in 2003 when it converted B.C. Ferries from a crown corporation to a private, government-owned company. The company itself is not required to release information and is exempt from freedom of information laws, but the Coastal Ferries Act requires the Authority to release various records to the public on request.

Kat Eschner reports from Victoria.

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