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The Columbia Journal
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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Two    April 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Offshore Ferries Will Permanently Hurt Economy, Critics Charge

    Marco Procaccini

    The BC Liberal government is also under fire for planning to build any new ferries off shore, leaving thousands of skilled shipbuilding professionals out of work and further damaging BC’s already weakened economy.

    BC Ferries officials admitted recently that they are studying bids from offshore shipbuilding firms for multi-million-dollar large-scale ferry projects. They claim BC’s shipyards can’t compete with those in Europe or Asia.

    The revelation drew instant harsh responses from workers, shipbuilding contractors, communities and the NDP opposition.

    “BC workers have built and maintained our vital ferry system for over forty years,” said BC Federation of Labour Secretary-Treasurer Angela Schira. “Only blind ideology could lead this government to destroy yet another crucial BC industry right now.”

    A study by the BC-based Trade Union Research Bureau says BC stands to lose $177.4 million worth of industrial output and 1,527 person years of employment if BC Ferries bosses go ahead as planned.

    The brief also warns that once BC Ferries goes offshore for the purchase of ferry construction it cannot go back to a built-in BC procurement policy due to restrictions under Chapter 10 of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    “It just doesn’t make sense for British Columbia’s taxpayers to invest in jobs and the economic development of German or South Korean shipyards when we have an economy in the tank here at home,” said BC NDP Leader Carole James. “Nearly every vessel in the BC Ferries fleet was built right here in BC; that had a huge economic impact and kept hundreds of millions of dollars in the BC economy.”

    The Shipyard General Workers' Federation of BC sees no economic benefit to anyone by having ferries built off-shore and has charged the Liberals of once again sacrificing BC’s economy and living standards to pay off elite corporate interests that want to see a privatized ferry system.

    “British Columbians were told privatizing BC Ferries would result in better service and better serve the economy,” James said. “Instead, we have conflict and confrontation, breakdowns, delays, and rising costs to ferry consumers and the threatened loss of an entire skilled industry.”

    But BC Liberal Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon defended the move, claiming that offshore construction of new ferries won’t affect existing employment levels or future opportunities for local shipyards.

    “I think the lesson we learned through the fast ferry debacle is that government and taxpayers need to be protected to ensure that taxpayers are getting the best possible value,” he told the press, adding that BC shipyards may still get to bid on future BC Ferries construction and repair tenders.

    But both James and local shipbuilders say while the Fast Cat projects did experience large cost overruns during construction, they also created a large number of jobs and economic investment, as well as government revenues, and spawned the development of a small but vibrant aluminum-hull boat building industry along the Fraser River.

    Schira says this has created a far better scenario for workers and taxpayers than the Liberal plan to take what she believes is likely the largest part of the shipbuilding industry off shore, with the result of lost jobs and working opportunities, investments and public revenues.

    “This will have serious economic and political consequences for BC and Canada,” she said. “It would be foolish to ship good private sector jobs outside our borders forever.”

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