Representatives of British Columbian municipalities meeting in Whistler this week rejected Transportation Minister Todd Stone's suggestion that local governments should contribute money to run BC Ferries.
"Local governments don't provide funding to BC Ferries because it is a provincial transportation system, and that's the end of the conversation," said Sheila Malcolmson, chair of the Islands Trust.
The question arose after a report for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities found escalating ferry fares caused a drop in ridership and killed $2.3 billion in economic activity over the past decade.
Responding to the report, Stone wrote a letter to UBCM president Rhona Martin. "With respect to the comparison of BC Transit service and BC Ferries funding, local governments play a very important role in funding BC Transit service in B.C.," he said. "I would look forward to discussing how local government can also contribute to the cost of providing ferry services to coastal communities."
Malcolmson made a comparison to how the highway system is funded. "We're not paying for provincial highways," she said. "Even if they go through our communities, the province pays for them. We need to have the province take its responsibility."
There's only one taxpayer, and local governments have already picked up "all kinds of other downloaded costs" from the provincial government, Malcolmson said.
Depending on the route, she said, ferry users pay between 90 to 100 per cent of the cost of the system. "For us to add additional tax onto the local taxpayer to cover something that's benefiting the whole province, I don't think is the right way to go."
'Difference of opinion'
During the municipalities convention in Whistler, UBCM vice president Claire Moglove and the chairs of the coastal community regional districts met with Stone, Premier Christy Clark and Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond.
Asked about the meeting, Moglove, who is also a Campbell River councillor, said, "Is there a difference of opinion? Absolutely." But she said it seemed Clark was listening and that the commitment to further dialogue was reassuring.
Malcolmson said this is the third time representatives have met with Clark about BC Ferries service. "I can't say we've moved as far as I'd hoped after that first meeting," she said.
The UBCM unanimously voted to call on the province to return BC Ferries fares and service levels to what they were before November 2013, when fares were raised and service was cut. The motion also called for future increases to be limited to the rate of inflation.