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Hundreds rally against ferry cuts

Hundreds of placard-carrying coastal British Columbians gathered at the front of the legislature Tuesday to protest impending cuts to the ferry service that provides their primary transportation link to the mainland.

The protesters waved signs that read Why do you, B.C. government, hate us? Another read, B.C. government and BC Ferries suck the life out of coastal communities.

Coastal Ferries Act — A Titanic Mistake, read another homemade sign.

Quadra Island resident Ted Conover, who was one of the estimated 500 people at the protest, said cutting services will eventually strangle coastal B.C.'s economy, especially on Vancouver Island.

The retired chartered accountant said many of the protesters were expressing their outrage at the coming cuts, but they should be making the economic case to the Liberal government for improving ferry service.

He said the government has yet to provide compelling data that justifies the reductions, due in April.

"That's what they should be looking at," he said. "What is it costing them in decreased revenues from the area. On Quadra Island there's a fish cannery, and I don't know how many trucks a day they bring across, but they're looking at barging now or moving the cannery. What does that cost to drive industry out?"

Conover said the service cuts will also result in dropping property values on island communities, which eventually means fewer tax dollars collected by the government.

"If they are going to start with cuts, they should start at the top (of BC Ferries head office) and work down," he said.

Canadian singers, and Gulf Island residents, Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard had the crowd clapping and singing along to their duet "Islander."

Valdy told the crowd that the louder they sang the more their voices would be heard within the walls of the legislature.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said ferry service cuts will be painful for many coastal communities, but rising ferry fares, which are also due to increase in April, must be kept in check.

"We've said consistently from day one in releasing our plan, there are going to be impacts," said Stone. "We know that. We know in every coastal community there will be impacts, whether it's in small business, whether it's in tourism. But at the end of the day, fares cannot continue to escalate."

Stone said many under-utilized routes are subsidized by taxpayers. He noted the Coastal Discovery circle tour route from Port Hardy to Bella Coola subsidizes each passenger by $2,500.New Democrat ferries critic Claire Trevena told the crowd that coastal residents pay 80 per cent of the coast of ferry services, but they are still made to suffer cuts.

"This is driven completely by the neo-conservative ideology of the Liberal government," she said.

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