Within hours of Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s Feb. 5 announcement the Queen of Chilliwack’s direct sailing between Port Hardy and Bella Coola was going to be cancelled, folks who rely on the tourism industry for their livelihoods along the Discovery Coast through the Cariboo-Chilcotin went to war against the B.C. Liberal government.
The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association (CCCTA) led the charge out of the gates, but took a back seat when the West Chilcotin Tourism Association, represented by Petrus Rykes, and Bella Coola Valley Tourism, headed by Leonard Ellis, took the reins and launched the Save the Discovery Coast Ferry campaign with its website (www. savethediscoverycoastferry. ca).
Meanwhile, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett tried to convince Stone to delay the cancellation for a year because circle tour businesses had spent a lot of money marketing – both in North America and abroad for the 2014 season. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.
The ferry cancellation impacted more than just those business owners and their employees along the circle tour, including those in the 100 Mile House area. It also negatively affected folks who booked thousands overnight stays in the Bella Coola Valley and through the Cariboo-Chilcotin, when their customers started cancelling their trips in droves.
Jonview Canada marketing and sales vice-president Bill Knowlton wrote a letter to Stone and Premier Christy Clark imploring them to reconsider the Queen of Chilliwack cancellation decision due to the short notice and the affect it will have on international tourists who have already booked accommodations.
“… We have seen some healthy growth over the past two years and service cancellation will be toxic to the viability of many lodges, campgrounds and attractions along Route 20 and into the Chilcotin,” Knowlton wrote.
Three weeks after Stone’s announcement and his mantra that he’s “making the tough decisions” by adjusting BC Ferries service, the NDP turned up the heat in the legislature.
New Democrat ferries critic Claire Trevena chided the B.C. Liberals for cancelling the 115-vehicle capacity Queen of Chilliwack direct sailing from Port Hardy to Bella Coola and replacing it with 16-vehicle capacity MV Nimpkish, which is the smallest ferry in BC Ferries’ fleet, in a longer round-about route to Bella Coola from Bella Bella.
“These cuts were not based on economic impact studies, and there was no research done into how they would affect the lives of the people who have to live with them.”
Meanwhile, the transportation minister argued the cuts were necessary to save millions of dollars in BC Ferries’ losses. He added the Queen of Chilliwack direct route was costing British Columbia taxpayers $2,500 per vehicle.
However, Rykes noted 2013 was an unusual year for Route 40 because BC Ferries wrote off a lot of capital costs and debt service, which are not part of operational costs on the route, so the $7.5 million shortfall was inflated.
Since 2003, he added, the taxpayer subsidy has been $850.
Rykes said cancelling the direct sailings is expected to save 10 per cent of the $7.5 million or $85 per vehicle taxpayer subsidy.
“Taxpayers will still be responsible for the subsidy on the surviving portions of the route, which generate 90 per cent of its losses, according to BC Ferries figures.”
In mid-March, CCCTA chief administrative officer Amy Thacker indicated tourism operators along the circle tour are being hammered by the proposed ferry
Some tourist accommodation operators’ reservations are 10 per cent of 2013 levels and reservations are down throughout the Bella Coola Valley.
Thacker and other regional representatives had a meeting with three cabinet ministers to offer solutions in March, but at the end of the day, the government officials said Route 40 would not be reinstated and the Nimpkish was the best solution.
Meanwhile, Thacker said the CCCTA is working with tourism operators and Destination BC to try to create itineraries that don’t rely on ferries to bring tourists to the region.
Read the May 7 edition of the 100 Mile House Free Press for more details in the ongoing battle to save tourism in the region.