Ordinarily, the Queen of Prince Rupert loses money for the British Columbia government on a north-coast run between Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, Prince Rupert and the Queen Charlotte Islands. On Aug. 14, though, the 450-passenger ferry will get the chance to lose even more money than usual after coming south for a special cruise between Victoria and Vancouver. Northern ferry service is being disrupted so that Socred Premier Bill Bennett can end a threeday premiers’ meeting with a flourish, using the small liner to show off B.C.’s coastal fleet to the nine other premiers. The premiers, their wives, aides, the press and other governmental hangerson will make up a crowd of about 200 which will rattle around the huge ferry on the six-hour trip to Vancouver.
The diversion has been criticized by both the New Democratic opposition and the ferry workers’ union as an extravagance, even if they can’t quite agree on how much the trip will cost. Andy McKeehnie, president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union, thinks that fuel costs and crew’s wages for the trip will reach $50,000. “That’s an expensive treat for the premiers and a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” he said. Besides that, the cruise is scheduled to take place two weeks after the union’s contract runs out—so the entire
ferry fleet could be strikebound, forcing the premiers to find another way of getting to Vancouver.
Even before the ferry workers came up with their estimate, the NDP was putting the cost of the premiers’ cruise at $106,000, including the revenue from the Queen of Prince Rupert’s cancelled trips. “That sounds like socialist arithmetic to me and I never pay any attention to that,” said Alex Fraser, B.C.’s minister of transportation. He was ready with his own form of creative accounting. Since the northern ferry service loses money on each run, he said, the taxpayers were actually saving money by having several of the Queen of Prince Rupert’s trips cancelled. “I look on [the premiers’ cruise] as an invest-
ment, not a cost,” he said. The B.C. Ferry Corporation itself isn’t sure how much the government’s public relations gesture will cost but at least says that tourists who would normally have travelled on the Queen of Prince Rupert can book passage on another ferry filling in for the diverted liner.
The NDP thinks the premiers should be democratic enough to rub shoulders with passengers travelling on regularly scheduled ferries running between the island and the mainland but the government is holding firm. The Queen of Prince Rupert will be the star turn at the end of the conference, then slip back to her money-losing ways in the north— until the government decides it’s time to showthe flag AGAIN.-MALCOLM GRAY
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