“That is not a sustainable amount of money from taxpayers across the province. It’s just not. You can’t run a ferry system with that kind of level of subsidy forever.”
Although inaccurate, her words were prophetic. When Premier Clark spoke, the province provided BC Ferries with 24¢ of each revenue dollar. Now it is 20¢, although inland ferries continue to be fully funded by the government of BC.
BC Liberals have other priorities. One of them is providing film and video producers with subsidies. Those have tripled to $491 million since the Premier spoke about ferry supports being unsustainable.
Seeing the rapid rise of tax expenditures flowing to picture producers during the past three years is surprising. The BC industry made huge gains from the declining Canadian dollar, which meant other supports were less needed to pull work from Hollywood South. Perhaps someone in Victoria turned a dollar exchange graph upside down and concluded higher, rather than lower, subsidies were appropriate.
Another possibility is that in BC, Pay-to-Play politics determines policy. Liberals gain valuable supports from beneficiaries of film & video production; they gain little from people travelling regularly on ferry boats. Good Liberals cross above the Strait of Georgia, not on top of it.
There is another important political factor affecting ferry operations on the coast, not one that any recent provincial government has made a priority. Last year, Stephen Hume reported:
Atlantic Canada’s ferry passengers get 350 times the federal subsidies that ferry passengers in B.C. receive, a study prepared for the Union of B.C. Municipalities finds.
Federal funding for West Coast ferries relative to East Coast ferries shows that Marine Atlantic is subsidized $493 per passenger. BC Ferries’ federal subsidy is $1.41 per passenger, the analysis notes. Ferry travellers here get about 0.2 per cent of the federal financial support counterparts on the Atlantic get, although ferry use here is 20 times greater.
I won’t attempt a calculation but imagine the relative value of coastal ferry operations, with 27 million annual vehicle and passenger movements, compared to movie making. If both came to a halt, which would be considered the essential service?