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Critic Blasts BC Ferries' 'Newest Port of Call': Liberal-rich Okanagan

Company calls promotion of party donor hotels a 'coincidence.'

By Bob Mackin 24 Jul 2014 |

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

The chair of a citizens' group opposed to BC Ferries fare hikes and service cuts wonders why the company is advertising BC Liberal-rich Okanagan as its "newest port of call."

B.C. Ferry Coalition's Jef Keighley agrees BC Ferries should be used as an economic generator across the province, but "it's a bit bizarre that it's going into the Okanagan at this point. That aside, what the most startling thing is where the largesse is going to."

For now, the Okanagan port of call is just marketing hype; BC Ferries has not annexed any inland ferry routes operated by the Transportation Ministry. In June, its BC Ferries Vacations division advertised Okanagan Retreats ferry trips to Metro Vancouver bundled with hotel rooms at Coast Hotels in Kelowna and Osoyoos, the Hotel Eldorado in Kelowna, Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa in Osoyoos and Sandman Hotel Penticton. The packages are still available on the website.

Keighley noted that Spirit Ridge owner Mohamed Awad donated $6,434 to the Liberals, according to the Elections BC database. Coast ($5,558.33) and Hotel Eldorado ($4,842.46) party donations pale in comparison to the $101,225 from the Sandman chain, which is part of the Gaglardi family-held Northland Properties.

"Obviously the Okanagan has been traditionally a heavy supporter of Social Credit before the Liberals became Liberals. The Gaglardi family has obviously been very close to the Social Credit Party," Keighley said, noting that Premier Christy Clark represents Westside-Kelowna.

Phil Gaglardi was a larger-than-life highways minister in the 1960s under Socred Premier W.A.C. Bennett who earned the nickname "Flying Phil" for racking up speeding tickets and using a government jet. Grandson Tom Gaglardi presides over the Sandman chain and owns the NHL's Dallas Stars and WHL's Kamloops Blazers.

BC Ferries' vice-president of marketing Janet Carson called the listed hotels' political connections a "coincidence."

"All of our properties, whether it's in the Okanagan, Vancouver Island, are all recommended by our product manager and she looks first of all at location, then she looks at the demand or anticipated demand of that kind of property," Carson said.

"We need hotels to guarantee that we're going to have a minimum amount of rooms available to use every single night. That negates us from working with some small properties and bed and breakfasts who just don't have the infrastructure to be able to do that."

Few Okanagan packages sold

Carson said the Sunshine Coast was the April-featured destination, followed by the Southern Gulf Islands in May. Vancouver Island storm-watching season will be featured in the fall.

She said the Okanagan launch was less than $50,000 of the overall $700,000 consumer marketing budget.

BC Ferries Vacations generated $3.3-million gross revenue last year, including the sale of 4,200 ferry and hotel packages for Vancouver Island and 300 in the Sunshine Coast. Only three were sold in the Okanagan last year. So far, that has improved to 56 packages and 147 room nights.

BC Ferries reported a $13.1-million profit for the year ended March 31, 2014, two years after a $6.8 million loss. Last year, it received a $28.1-million federal/provincial subsidy.

Depending on the route, the B.C. Ferry Coalition says fares have risen between 50 and 93 per cent since 2003 when BC Ferries was transformed from a Crown corporation into what it calls a "public owned, private functioning" entity.

BC Ferries hit passengers and drivers with a double whammy earlier this year, hiking fares 3.5 per cent in January and announcing $19 million of service cuts in March.  [Tyee]

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