The Canadian Ferry Association (CFA) has a message for North Island-Powell River MP, Rachel Blaney.
It’s to leave decisions on crewing levels aboard BC Ferries vessels to the experts.
Blaney recently delivered a letter to transportation minister Marc Garneau, asking that he review the ministry’s Minimum Safe Manning (MSM) ruling for the new Island Aurora and Island Discovery ferries.
The hybrid-electric vessels began service last month on routes between Texada Island and Powell River, and Port McNeill, Sointula and Alert Bay.
The MSM standards approved by the ministry in May allow BC Ferries to reduce the crew size on these routes from six or seven members down to five.
Blaney says people are raising concerns about routine safety, the ability to respond to emergencies, and additional health and safety protocols in response to COVID-19.
READ MORE: MP Blaney calls on federal minister to review new ferry safety
However, CFA Chief Executive Officer Serge Buy, says the association “respectfully disagrees” with Blaney’s request to have a review of the decision, “not because a review by itself is wrong but rather that it should be informed by facts and not public pressure.”
“Safety protocols and safety guidelines that are established are normally established by experts,” Buy said. “You’ve got experts who work in departments who have been doing this job for years, who have been doing work on various safety standards, and they do that work without political interference. This is the first time that I can see that we’ve had political interference in crewing levels.”
In a letter to Blaney, Buy said “as the voice of the industry, the Canadian Ferry Associations (CFA) agrees with you that ferries play a crucial role for the communities they serve.”
“It has been evident during this pandemic when, thanks to the efficiency of various ferry-systems, residents of communities across our country continued to be served. This included receiving goods (food, supplies), essential passenger services and the safe passage of first responders,” he continued.
However, Buy said the CFO is concerned about Blaney’s request to have the minister review the decision “made by experts within his department” regarding the number of crew members required to safely operate the vessel.
Buy said that “decisions about the safety of passengers are better made by experts, and Transport Canada has the experts that make these decisions on a regular basis.”
“They should not be subject to political pressure,” he added.
“That usually leads to the wrong decisions.”
He agreed with Blaney that the previous ships, one of which was 51 years old, had more crew members than what is in effect today.
“The reasons are simple: new technologies introduced, smart designs and better planning. Technology enables us to do more with (fewer) people,” Buy said.
“This is a fact that affects most industries.”
Buy noted that the statement “points to another motive in requesting a review of the Minister’s decision: jobs.”
“You mention that the communities depend on ferries in many ways, including a source of employment,” Buy said in the letter.
“While we know that our members pay good wages, their primary focus is to provide a lifeline to the communities. By being more efficient with resources, our members enhance services and reinvest in facilities: that creates meaningful economic development that should be encouraged.”
“Our association understands that decisions to cut down the number of crew members on a ship may create some angst in the union that represents them or in the community,” Buy said.
“This is why it is important to carefully explain the decisions made. Our members, in this case, BC Ferries, welcome opportunities to explain such decisions made in affected communities.”
Buy added that Blaney calling for a review because she wants more crew members “is not the right comment for a Member of Parliament to make.”
“The right comment for a Member of Parliament to make is, ‘Can I get some information on why the decision was made?’”
In response, Blaney said her job is to represent her constituents, adding that her office has been inundated with emails of concern from regular travellers on those ferries, the Texada Island Chamber of Commerce, and workers.
“My job as a Member of Parliament is to work within the toolbox that I have, which is to do outreach to the minister and ask for more information, and of course in this situation, just wanted to make sure that everything was done, that there was a proper process of reviewing this and making sure that the voices of my constituents were heard.”