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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Small  doesn't count

    Diana  French

    All the hoopla about the Olympic Games really doesn’t cut it in the Central Interior. True, some city councils  have high hopes of hosting some country’s teams for pre-Olympic practice (IE cross country skiing) and at least one interior city is hoping to get an indoor soccer pitch from the legacy fund. Most Ordinary Citizens in the central interior simply wish the provincial Liberal government would direct some of the attention and dollars it is devoting to the Olympic bid in their direction.

    The sale of BC Rail is one concern. The rail line was built originally to open development in the north and it has done a yeoman job in doing that, hauling freight and people and cattle and wheat and lumber and copper and coal from the resource communities to the coast. In later years trucks have taken some of the load, but many communities still depend on the rail.

    Even with the passenger and intermodal services gone, BCR made a $17 million profit last year, enough to earn its top executives bonuses ranging from $100,000 to $150,000. Still, Transportation Minister Judith Reid told a Prince George meeting that the freight service must be sold because the government can’t operate it efficiently. In the market to buy BCR is the US controlled Canadian National.

    In the Thompson and Okanagan areas, citizens are riled over plans to privatize the Coquihalla Highway. Built for Expo 86 with horrendous over runs, the Coq was a major scandal at the time. Now the fast track to Kamloops, Merritt and the Okanagan is beginning to pay off but the Liberals have decided to lease the highway to the private sector for 55 years. Obviously the Liberal government thinks it can’t run the Coquihalla efficiently either. .

    The most mean- spirited cut the of all, and the one getting no attention , is the permanent docking of the Marguerite Ferry. This wee reaction ferry had been pulling itself back and forth across the Fraser River between Marguerite and Castle Rock since 1921. (Marguerite and Castle Rock are teensy communities. Blink passing by and you miss them.) In the winter months when the ferry couldn’t operate because of ice, pedestrians crossed the river by cable car. Local men built the cable tower from 75 foot long hand hewn logs and the first ferryman had to hand crank it and its passengers across the river.

    The ferry landing on the east side of the river is half way between Williams Lake and Quesnel, about 64 k on pavement either way. With the ferry gone, those living on the west side of the river have a long, windy, gravel, not always safe- in- the- winter road to travel to get to either of those centers.

    On the east side, the ferry landing is right beside the Highway 97 and in the summer the ferry was busy with tourists as well as local traffic. There aren’t many reaction ferries around and they are a curiosity. Tourists loved this one  and they could make a circle tour. The  windy gravel road is picturesque in the summer months and tourists loved it too.  But the Liberals decided it is too expensive ($80,000 a year) to operate the service  for a few hundred people. The ferry didn’t go back into the water this spring.

    Those who used the ferry frequently include the 300 member Alexandria First Nations, of the Tsilhqot’in Nation. Their reserve is on both sides of the river. Passage across it is crucial to their safety, health, and economic well being. It's a very long way around by road. 

    Local people came up with a number of ways to keep the ferry operating but because of land leases, insurance costs and to cost of  yearly inspections, none of the plans were workable even if they charged $15 a trip, which was out of the question for the short hop across the river. Government help was not forthcoming. Ferry users protested as best they could, and even staged a major protest on Highway 97. It  got some local media coverage but nobody else seemed to  care except the RCMP who wouldn’t let the protestors block the highway.

    This isn’t the first time a government threatened to close the ferry. In the early 1980s, it was to be shut down as part of  then Premier  Bill Bennett’s restraint program. Cariboo MLA Alex Fraser, who was Highways Minister at the time and always a Cariboo hero, put a stop to the notion and the ferry stayed in use. The ferry survived the Dirty Thirties too, but not the New Era Liberals.

    There’s been hardly a squeak from the current MLA, backbencher John Wilson.

    It is true that BC is ranked at the bottom of the pile along with Newfoundland when it comes to poverty amongst us, but it truly is astonishing to think the province would disintegrate under the debt load if it continued the Marguerite Ferry service.

    As people drive those back roads to get their groceries, see a doctor, or get to he other  part of the reserve,   it isn’t surprising they can’t get excited about the Olympics going to Vancouver/.Whistler.


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