EDITORIAL: UBCM ferry report makes for awkward talks

Transportation Minister Todd Stone's harsh criticism of $2 billion loss in economic activity was necessary

The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention marks its halfway point today in Whistler, where mayors and councillors from around the province have gathered to gauge their common appetite for ensuing battles with higher levels of government.

This year’s convention will be particularly tense when Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone arrives for one-on-one meetings with various municipal leaders. Perhaps most contentious is a report commissioned by the UBCM (and its regional counterpart, the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities) and released last week that concludes B.C. missed out on about $2 billion in economic activity over the past decade because of rising BC Ferries fares.

The resulting headlines were certainly one way to begin what’s meant to be open dialogue between provincial ministers and municipal delegates. Local leaders may have felt the report would offer some leverage in the fight for infrastructure and subsidy funding.

Stone soon issued a firm rebuke of Boatswains to Bollards – A Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of BC Ferries, and called its timed release “irresponsible,” “unsubstantiated” and “sensational.” (Not the way one hopes to set up afternoon tea. A drink at the bar may be a better recommendation.)

Stone then lays out a number of indicators – the recession, U.S. passport requirements, corresponding drops in air travel between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland – that show ferry rates are hardly the only reason why people are choosing to stay home and count their pennies more often.

But the ferry analysis and Stone’s quick response also reveal a more worrying trend between intergovernmental partners: a surplus scarcity often means politicians point the finger at the next door instead of seeking real solutions to immediate problems.

Hiked ferry rates and our weakened economic health will remain with us for the foreseeable future. What’s needed is constructive dialogue, meaningful proposals and motivational answers that connect with citizens. The rest is just posturing.