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December 2013: Sound and fury

December 11, 2013

A tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That’s how I described last week’s BC Ferries meeting to my neighbour Jamie as we departed the community hall. There had been sound and there had certainly been fury, but what, in the end, was it likely to accomplish? Jamie disagreed, pointing out that the community spirit permeating through the packed hall signified a great deal. And he was right.

I revised my conclusion. Was this a Shakespearean tragedy? It had many of the elements, but ultimately, as many speakers pointed out, it was a farce.

That was apparent when one of the first speakers asked what sort of study had been conducted to establish the socio-economic impacts of the proposed ferry cuts would have on Gabriolans. Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MoTI) representative Kirk Handrahan smiled disingenuously and said that was why the panel was there – to hear from Gabriolans.

How fatuous was that? Unless the fat cat management at BC Ferries (there are certainly enough of them) and MoTI are all too incompetent (a genuine possibility) to know you do socio-economic impact studies before deciding where to make cuts, the message was clear: we don’t give a damn.

Handrahan is a charming man. He oozes empathy, which is no doubt why he was chosen to tour island communities in this after-the-fact, so-called consultation. It takes some talent to look so genuinely bemused by the bloody obvious. When asked by an early speaker whether or not he believed the BC government had a social contract with island residents, he flashed that smile and said he didn’t know what the term meant.  Was he really the only person in the room who didn’t know exactly what the term meant?

Then there was his sterling performance as  he explained that, yes, the BC government (i.e. you and me and all the other taxpayers) will indeed continue to fully reimburse  BC Ferries the cost for pensioner travel, while pensioners themselves will have to cough up half the cost of their journey. Not everyone could avoid blushing whilst explaining this farcical proposal, let alone keep a straight face.

The point was repeatedly made by speakers that, while there may be a few wealthy people living on Gabriola, most residents earn far less than the national average. These are nurses who need the early and late ferries to work their chronically underpaid and undervalued 12-hour shifts at Nanaimo General. These are working people trying to take evening courses at VIU, whose aspirations will be dashed by cutting late ferries. These are artists whose limited livelihoods often depend on early morning and late evening travel. These are young parents who can barely afford the fares to take their children to Nanaimo for swimming lessons.

Much was justifiably made throughout the meeting of the inflated salaries of the hundreds of BC Ferries managers. (Not to mention the six figure annual pension being paid to million dollar man David Hahn, whose tenure as BC Ferries CEO saw fares on the Gabriola ferry nearly double.)

Then there was the most poignant moment of the evening, when 10-year-old Virginia White stepped up to the microphone. She said she had two questions. The first was how much money Handrahan made. Had an adult asked the question, I’m sure he would have dismissed it as irrelevant, but somehow he couldn’t do this to a child. I wasn’t close enough to see if he finally blushed as he told her: One hundred thousand dollars. Virginia forgot whatever her second question was going to be. In the face of this unimaginable sum, all she could say, plaintively, was, “We’re just trying to live.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Of course, borrowing once again from Shakespeare, we shouldn’t shoot the messenger. (In fact, we shouldn’t actually shoot anyone, but the temptation is surely there.)

When he got to the microphone, our MLA Doug Routley didn’t ask a question. Instead he gave a stump speech. Fair enough. He’s a politician.

Routley repeated a point frequently made by others: the panel were patsies. The meeting was a sham. Nothing any of us said to Handrahan or the others would make the slightest difference. Christy Clark wasn’t there (as if) nor was her transport minister Todd Stone. Nor were they in the legislature, where they could be shamed about their shameful decision to destabilise island communities in a patently flawed attempt to prop up the failed experiment of privatising of BC Ferries. (As an earlier speaker had pointed out, quoting Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.)

And so we are told we must wait until the legislature finally reconvenes in February before we can tackle the shameless people threatening to cut off our life blood. By then there really will be sound and fury. Let’s just hope it signifies something.

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