In the late 1950s, Captain Harry Terry (an Australian rum runner) and the then premier, WAC Bennett, were walking across the legislature lawn going to lunch at the Bengal Room in the Empress Hotel.
Blackball Ferries, owned by the CPR, provided the only ferry service to the island. Their employees were on a series of strikes.
The premier asked the captain to build a ferry system for the people of British Columbia.
The captain agreed to take on the task, as long as he didn't have to report to that little, Italian guy - of course referring to Phil Gaglardi, Minister of Highways and BC Ferries.
Captain Terry at that time owned Northland Navigation, which ran tug boats and barges up and down the coast of B.C.
The captain got the ferry service off the ground by 1960 with Monty Aldous as his president.
By 1972, it had become one of the largest ferry systems in the world and made a profit every year.
It didn't miss any sailings for mechanical problems or labour disputes, and the staff was a happy family serving the people of British Columbia.
In 1972, Dave Barrett's New Democrat government was elected, and within the first year, his government started sinking the ferry service.
Captain Terry, who had been working for more than a decade to build the ferry system, was fired from a job for which he had been paid a dollar a year.
Monty soon followed. During the buildup period, the captain had seconded his staff from Northland Navigation to hire and train the new corporation's seamen.
He was philosophically hated by the Barrett gang and especially by Bob Williams, so much so that they revoked his lifetime Gold Pass by the Order in Council.
The unions that ran the food service and had publicly supported the NDP, ended up with their wages being doubled, and the headline of the day said, "Pie cutter wages doubled!"
The era of public service was over, and the era of entitlement began.
The BC Ferries service has lost money in varying degrees ever since then.
Management expanded, the union became more militant, and a slide began.
The management expanded building into a series of mistakes including the "fast ferry" fiasco.
As a result, B.C. taxpayers are currently funding the ferry system to an all-time high of $180 million.
During the past nine years, fares have escalated between 45 and 80 per cent.
Labour costs have increased 24 per cent, as compared to inflation at 15 per cent for the same period, making our ferry-service workers my nominee for the highest paid in the world.
Their million-dollar management team decided to open a marketing division because traffic usage started to drop.
Of course, as bureaucratic monopolies have found, they accelerated the decline of revenue.
Meanwhile, the union work rules have created - in my opinion - a bumbling bunch that has forgotten the concept of public service.
We have had an increasing number of incidents (see their website for a list), the worst of which was running head-on into an island while the crew was "busy."
We are still waiting to find out what "busy" means.
Despite their $180million subsidy, they are projected to lose an additional $16 million next year.
The provincial government's answer has been that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has invited the public to participate in the "BC Coastal Ferries Consultation and Engagement."
There were more than 20 meetings throughout the islands, and of course, the Islanders believe the ferry system is an extension of the highway and the ferry system should be further subsidized.
The ferry workers are demanding more, and the inflexibility of their work rules combined with huge management overhead sounds exactly like Blackball in the '50s.
So maybe we should let someone else go into the ferry business.
- Gordy Robson is a former Maple Ridge mayor and a local businessman who was raised in this community.
His opinion column appears Tuesdays in the print and/or online versions of The TIMES. Questions
and reactions can be emailed to Gordy Robson c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
@ Copyright 2013