On Friday, British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. announced Stephen Smith - "the President or CEO of a number of Prince Rupert hospitality-related businesses including the Crest Hotel and the Pacific Inn" - had been appointed to the company's board of directors. But, in the past, Mr. Smith has also been both a critic of that company and New Democrat legislator Gary Coons.
In a June 2008 interview with The Globe and Mail's Wendy Stueck, Mr. Smith took issue with the company's decision to ask for a fuel surcharge on its fares. "It will have a negative impact on people travelling," he said. "At some point, you get price resistance and people won't travel on the ferries. It becomes uneconomical."
And Mr. Smith was even more pointed in July 2002, when he spoke to Prince Rupert councillors about proposed changes to the ferry service's northern routes. This, according to a report published in the Daily News.
"It's about time we stopped taking this kind of crap from the corporation," he was quoted as saying, claiming the company, which was then still a Crown corporation, "operates in a vacuum and acts in isolation."
"These routes should be regarded as highways and funded like highways, but the province doesn't get it," he said. But, according to Mr. Smith, "present thinking of BC Ferries as it relates to service in the mid and north coast could be summed up in one word - neanderthal."
But, lately, Mr. Smith has also taken on Mr. Coons, the New Democrats' critic for ferries and ports. On April 28, 2007, Mr. Coons stated in a news release the Northern Adventure's return to refit "is a major embarrassment for B.C. Ferries, and shows they didn't properly plan for the transition period for the vessel" - which replaced the sunken Queen of the North.
In response, Mr. Smith wrote a letter to the Daily News in which he alleged, "Mr. Coons and his NDP hack's press release on BC Ferries did nothing to help restore our valued tourism industry and the many jobs that depend on our ferry system."
Mr. Smith also reminded readers, "The NDP bankrupted the corporation and left us with three FAST CATS that, to this day have not found a meaningful use other than being tied to a dock and left to rust."
And he opined, rather than criticizing British Columbia Ferry Services, "Wouldn't it be nice if we simply celebrated the reliable, safe and truly spectacular experience BC Ferries provides each day on the coastal waters of British Columbia?"
The following is a complete copy of Mr. Coons's news release and Mr. Smith's response.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 28, 2007
FERRY'S RETURN TO REFIT RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT PLANNING, COONS SAYS
VICTORIA - News that the Northern Adventure is heading back into refit is a major embarrassment for B.C. Ferries, and shows they didn't properly plan for the transition period for the vessel, New Democrat MLA Gary Coons says.
In a vague media release, B.C. Ferries acknowledged the ship - the cost of which, including its renovations, was more than $100 million - was "experiencing some issues," but Coons, the NDP Critic for Ferries and Ports, said that statement does not reflect the seriousness of the problems aboard the vessel.
"The release makes it sound like the ship needs a new coat of paint, but it's more serious than that," said Coons, the MLA for North Coast. "The ship has apparently experienced problems with its electrical systems, its alarm systems aren't working properly, the public address system has experienced failures, and fire equipment and life raft systems still need work.
"There's also no working elevator or escalator.
"These aren't benign "˜issues,'" said Coons. "They're serious safety concerns."
There has also been the "issue" of the sewage system backing up, which is not just disgusting, but a legitimate health concern, Coons said.
Coons said communities up and down the coast and on the North Island already went through one summer tourist season with just one vessel on the route. As the 2007 summer season approaches, tour operators are now apprehensive about limited service again.
"This is a serious blunder that could have serious ramifications for coast residents who depend on their marine highway system."
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To the editor,
I read with disgust the recent press release from our NDP North Coast MLA Gary Coons, criticizing BC Ferries for their efforts in restoring service to the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Inside Passage.
David Hahn, in his remarks at the official dedication of the Northern Adventure at Canada Place last month, was clear that the vessel would under-go further refits.
The Northern Adventure is a first-class ship with amenities that are unsurpassed by anything we have had before to serve our northern marine highways.
The Government of British Columbia, the BC Ferry Board, the shipyard trades and crew of BC Ferries should be highly commended for their efforts, success and commitment in restoring service in less than a year. This truly represents the work of talented, dedicated folks who understand the serious economic impact, caused to both northern residents and our provincial tourism industry with the loss of the Queen of the North.
This group of driven, highly skilled tradesmen, worked tirelessly, seven days a week, 24 hours a day to complete the job as best they could before taking the ship on her trial runs.
Many colleagues are in Quebec City this week at Rendezvous Canada, trying to rebuild interest in travel throughout British Columbia, meeting with qualified tour operators and travel wholesalers. The negative publicity as a result of the NDP press release seriously undermines everyone's efforts to rebuild tourism.
A word of advice to my MLA from the North Coast: A closed mouth gathers no foot.
Mr. Coons should be reminded of his government's legacy to BC Ferries.
The NDP bankrupted the corporation and left us with three FAST CATS that, to this day have not found a meaningful use other than being tied to a dock and left to rust. Perhaps this is a fitting architectural trophy to the misguided plans and commitment the NDP has shown to the people of British Columbia.
Mr. Coons and his NDP hack's press release on BC Ferries did nothing to help restore our valued tourism industry and the many jobs that depend on our ferry system. Wouldn't it be nice if we simply celebrated the reliable, safe and truly spectacular experience BC Ferries provides each day on the coastal waters of British Columbia?
Chair North and MidCoast
Ferry Advisory Committee