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Keep Discovery Coast Route for 2014: Barnett

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett is lobbying for her government to keep the Discovery Coast route running for at least 2014.

Barnett said she met with the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone on Wednesday and insisted the decision to cancel the Port Hardy to Bella Coola Route be reversed.

“Right now my concern is that cutting the ferry in 2014 will be devastating to the tourism industry and small businesses, if we lose this product that has been sold for 2014,” she said. “Minister Stone was receptive and said he would get back to me next week. Hopefully I’m successful.”

Barnett said she laid the issues on the table she has received from her constituents.

While financial issues sometimes drive decisions, the tourism industry, chambers of commerce and others have told her the tourism industry has spent a lot of money over the past year marketing the region, she said.

“Not just here, but with Rendez Vous Canada. They have signed contracts with sales people for tourism products everywhere, even in other countries. They have done a lot of work and have sold tourism packages that include the ferry for 2014.”

Barnett also said government and BC Ferries needs to have dialogue to work with industries to do different types of marketing for 2014.

If the ferry isn’t efficient, it’s not efficient, Barnett said, adding the taxpayer cannot continue to subsidize anything, no matter what it is.

“I know it’s a hard blow to everybody to have to change their way of life, but in this case, when you’ve gone out and sold a product, done your work and spent your money, and you could have maybe spent your money marketing in a different concept, it’s tough all of a sudden to say I don’t have that product anymore,” she said. “I cannot accept that.”

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association CEO Amy Thacker said earlier this week her phone is ringing off the hook as businesses reel at the lack of notice and consultation on the proposal to cut the ferry route.

“One business has over 700 room nights at stake and without an immediate resolution faces significant cancellations for the 2014 season. Our association represents over 200 similar stakeholders and we cannot allow this potential economic devastation to be considered,” Thacker said.

Her office is compiling data to support a regional economic impact statement, and is calling upon consumers, travel wholesalers, inbound tourism operators, rental car agencies and airlines who may operate a business or book travel for this region requiring the ferry service between Bella Coola and Port Hardy to contact the CCCTA office regarding how the proposed BC Ferries cancellation may affect them.

In a letter to Premier Christy Clark, tourism operator Petrus Rykes of Anahim Lake, also a director with the West Chilcotin Tourism Association, said: “BC Ferries receives subsidies from the Government of Canada for providing service to the remote communities along the B.C. coast, including those along the Discovery Coast Ferry route, on the order of $20-plus million annually for northern coastal routes.”

He asked Clark if the appropriate portion of this funding been accounted for as an offset to the expenses of Route 40, or has it gone into general revenues in order to buttress management’s contention that Route 40 is unprofitable and should be discontinued?

“BC Ferries has never provided the WCTA with an answer to this question,” Rykes said.

At the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce meeting Thursday, chamber president Jason Ryll said the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce, along with their mayor and representatives from First Nations are trying to get the decision reversed.

“Bella Coola doesn’t have a chamber of commerce but they have a very active voice, especially this week, in trying to make sure people know of the economic impact and what they stand to lose so that BC Ferries can save a million dollars and change.”

Meanwhile an online petition to save the route had garnered 599 signatures by Friday afternoon.

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