News: BC Ferries is locked out of federal infrastructure funds: Victoria

Vancouver Sun, March 2, 2015

But Infrastructure Canada says ferry corporation ‘indeed eligible to apply for’ money

VICTORIA — The B.C. government is lobbying Ottawa to change the “baffling” funding rules that have shut out BC Ferries from federal financial support for its terminals and ships.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Monday he continues to press his federal counterparts to alter eligibility criteria for the $53-billion New Building Canada fund, so that BC Ferries and the province can make a joint pitch for federal money.

“The ferry infrastructure in British Columbia is so critical to our economy and communities and the social fabric of our province, it’s somewhat baffling that it isn’t included in the current criteria,” Stone said in an interview.

Obtaining federal funding could ease the financial strain on BC Ferries and potentially lessen future fare hikes.

The quasi-private corporation is awash in debt, struggling with low ridership and facing a $3-billion capital plan over the next 12 years to upgrade its aging terminals and fleet of ferries. The independent ferry commissioner is set to cap future fare increases later this month.

Technically, Infrastructure Canada says BC Ferries can apply for money.

“I can confirm, that BC Ferries is indeed eligible to apply for the New Building Canada funds,” said Michele-Jamali Paquette, director of communications for Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel. “However, the eligibility of the project would depend entirely on the project they would submit.”

A list of eligible categories on the New Building Canada fund website includes one called Public Transit Infrastructure.

But an analysis by BC Ferries and the province has shown that even if the ferry corporation applied, their terminals and ships wouldn’t fit into any funding categories.

“We’ve been advised on numerous occasions from the federal government that ferry infrastructure, including terminal upgrades and vessel replacements, are not eligible. They don’t fit within any of the existing eligibility requirements,” said Stone.

“That being said, I’ve mentioned this on several occasions to federal ministers face-to-face including [federal Transport Minister] Lisa Raitt and Minister Denis Lebel.

“I’ve also brought it up in other conversations at the federal level that British Columbia believes the criteria for the Build Canada Fund should be expanded to include ferry infrastructure.”

BC Ferries currently receives almost $30 million annually from Ottawa in an operating subsidy, in addition to $177 million from the B.C. government.

“In order to apply for funding under this federal program, BC Ferries must apply through the provincial government,” BC Ferries said in a statement.

“BC Ferries has had discussions with the province and has been told that it doesn’t fit under the categories; however, the two parties continue to pursue this matter.”

BC Ferries said it’s also working with the Canadian Ferry Association to see if it can access any of the federal funding.

Jim Abram, chairman of the Strathcona Regional District on mid-Vancouver Island, said he took the issue to several B.C. MPs from the federal Conservative government last month and was told BC Ferries was absolutely eligible for the money under the public transit category. BC Ferries should just apply, said Abram.

“It’s hard to imagine from my perspective they’d turn down any available money,” he said.

Stone said the B.C. government reiterated its position on ferry funding in a recent submission to a federal panel reviewing transportation laws, chaired by former cabinet minister David Emerson.

“From a provincial perspective we raise it on every occasion we possibly can,” said Stone. “We think it makes common sense.”

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