A Vancouver Island MP is calling on the federal government to provide emergency wage benefits to BC ferries workers.

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, who is the NDP Critic for Tourism, is asking the Liberal government to amend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to allow BC Ferries to apply for benefits.

In a letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau dated July 28, Johns says that the ferries “are a critical component of the social and economic life of coastal communities.” 

Johns believes that without access to federal support, BC Ferries will be forced to cut sailings and reduce the services that local small businesses and workers rely on across Vancouver Island, Denman Island, and Hornby Island.

“We know that many of the small businesses on Vancouver Island have already been hit by the pandemic,” Johns said. “They’ll be dealt another blow if BC Ferries cuts sailings and can’t resume critical services, so it’s absolutely essential that the ferry corporation is eligible for the wage subsidy.”

He told the minister that the operation of the ferries has been significantly disrupted due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and it needs help to protect jobs.

BC Ferries is an independent company operating at arm’s length from the provincial government and is mostly dependent on fares to sustain services. 

Johns points out that the reduction of sailings has caused an 80 per cent revenue loss and undermined its ability to keep its staff employed. 

The federal government has deemed the company as a “public-sector entity” and not eligible for emergency wage benefits.

The Canadian Ferry Association estimates losses in the sector, which is federally regulated, to be over $450 million.

“I urge you to amend the eligibility criteria of CEWS to allow BC Ferries to access the program,” said Johns in the letter. “You can ensure that the essential work done by BC Ferries continues, protect the jobs it creates, and retain the essential connections between communities by allowing BC Ferries to access CEWS.”

We have reached out to the ministry for comment.