Photo Credit: Rail for the Valley

Power Struggle Over Ferries

The CEO of BC Ferries makes how much money???

Bill 7 could mean no more service reductions and lay-offs. But if it’s setting the stage for another Fast Cat fiasco, we’ve got problems

BC Ferries has been under fire in the past for its ballooning upper management.

In a recent report looking into executive compensation, the BC Ferry Authority concluded that senior staff salaries at BC Ferries were too high compared to similar organizations.

The report found the $535,000 base salary of CEO Mark Collins and those of his eight VPs were extravagant and non-compliant with the Coastal Ferry Act.   

This news was the latest twist in a major power struggle for control over BC Ferries. Using the Coastal Ferry Amendment Act (Bill 7,) Horgan’s government aims to reclaim management over ferry operations, delivering on a long-standing NDP promise to bring the ferry service back under direct government control.

The previous Liberal government reorganized BC Ferries as an independent yet publicly-owned organization. It was supposed to be run as a business, at arm’s length from political interference. Bill 7 will strip away the current board’s autonomy and enable the BC Ferry Authority “to issue binding directions” to BC Ferries over all areas of ferry operations and whatever it deems to be in “the public interest.”

It’s worth noting that the BC Ferry Authority board is made up of cabinet appointees. So much for keeping politics out of ferry operations.

No question about it. It’s a takeover.

But the question remains is a takeover a good thing?

That depends on what you think a good ferry service looks like, and who would run it?”

If you think BC Ferries should run like a business, you won’t like these changes.

The newly empowered Ferry Authority is likely to block further service reductions, route changes or layoffs.

However, if you live in a ferry-dependent coastal community like most people on VanIsle–or are related to a ferry worker–you probably think these changes are good news.

But there’s good reason to be wary of the proposed changes in Bill 7. John Horgan’s NDP wants to kick start the province’s shipbuilding industry, and BC Ferries’ aging fleet presents an obvious opportunity.

But you don’t have to look too far in the past to see what happened the last time the NDP tried to leverage its control over the ferry corporation to stimulate domestic shipbuilding.

In the 1990s, the NDP government oversaw the construction of three Fast Cat ferries for $460 million, more than double the projected costs at the outset of the program.

“The results were so embarrassing — overbudget, underpowered, impractical — that the New Democrats themselves took the vessels out of service and put them up for sale,” wrote Vaughn Palmer in a Vancouver Sun column.

The Fast Cat fleet was abandoned and ultimately sold for pennies on the dollar. In 2019, the three ships were spotted rusting at a port in Egypt.

BC Ferries is a critical piece of transportation infrastructure. It’s an essential service and a public asset. Profit should not be the underlying goal of management, but efficiency and accountability to ferry users must be.

Can we trust that the NDP’s power grab will be good for BC Ferries? Only time will tell.

Perhaps Horgan has learned foe the NDP’s past mistakes, but recent history suggests otherwise.