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
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.