John Cummins

Conservative leader floats ferry tax credit

BC Conservatives leader John Cummins visited Ladysmith last week to publicize his party's proposed bridge and ferry toll tax credits

Tax credits for ferry and toll bridge users and a repeal of the Carbon Tax are two ideas the BC Conservatives are announcing in the runup to the May provincial election.

BC Conservatives leader John Cummins was in Ladysmith March 26 for a Meet and Greet the day after the party announced its new Bridge Tolls and Ferry Fares Tax Credit, and Cummins said the ferries are a big issue whenever he is in this part of the province.

“Every time I come to the Island, the high rates are a topic of conversation,” he said. “If you look at the ferry fares since the Liberals formed this separate corporation back in 2003, ferry rates have gone up by 48 per cent — that’s significant. As well, this past year, the ridership was the lowest it’s been in 21 years, so that’s pretty much a stunning statement about the impact I think the high fares have had on the ridership. As you lose that ridership, of course you’re losing revenue. So we’ve got to do something to build the ridership up, and in part, that’s what the announcement is about.”

Cummins announced March 25 that Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island motorists will enjoy significant financial savings through a new Bridge Tolls and Ferry Fares Tax Credit if his party is elected to government on May 14. If a Conservative government is elected, this tax credit would come into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

The Bridge Tolls and Ferry Fares Tax Credit would allow B.C. motorists to calculate annual tax savings by tallying their expenditures on tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, and fares paid to travel on BC Ferries. Those expenditures could be used to reduce the B.C. portion of their personal income taxes, up to a maximum of $408 per year. The tax credit would be applicable only to the ferry fares paid for vehicles — not for passengers.

“What it would do is if you spend over $780 on ferry fares, you would begin to get a tax credit of 40 per cent on every dollar you spend, up to a cap of $1,800,” said Cummins. “If you spent $1,800 on ferry fares, you would get a tax credit for $408. You are required to keep your ferry receipts, and when you’re filing your income tax, that tax credit will apply to the provincial portion of your tax.”

The tax credit would not be available in the first year (2014) to commercial trucks, semi-trailers and other large vehicles, but would be extended to such vehicles in 2015.

The estimated total cost of the Bridge Tolls and Ferry Fares Tax Credit in its first year of operation is $45 million — or slightly less than 10 per cent of the combined revenues for vehicle traffic in a calendar year on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, and BC Ferries, according to the BC Conservatives.

The total may be expected to increase in the second and subsequent years of operation, as public awareness of the tax credit grows, and as the tax credit is extended to commercial trucks, semi-trailers and other large vehicles.

The BC Conservatives have committed to ending the Carbon Tax, which Cummins says would be another advantage to BC Ferries.

“The Carbon Tax costs BC Ferries about $10 million a year, so that’s significant money, and it would represent a significant savings for BC Ferries that would be helpful to keeping costs under control,” he said. “But when all is said and done, I think we need to take a careful look at the management structure at BC Ferries and determine whether or not this independent company that is now operating with the province as sole shareholder is working, or would it be better to bring it back under the government as a Crown corporation. I think some choices have to be made.”

Cummins said that here on Vancouver Island, the creation of more job opportunities is a main concern.

“Many people are complaining that the young people here can’t find good-paying jobs and they’re having to leave the Island and go elsewhere, and that’s a problem we’re facing across British Columbia,” he said. “In the last six quarters — in other words, the last year and a half — more people have been leaving British Columbia to seek their fortunes elsewhere in Canada than have been coming here from other provinces, so we’ve got a net outflow of people to places like Alberta and Saskatchewan, Ontario and even Quebec, and fewer people are leaving those provinces to come here. One of the reasons of course is that 40 years ago, wage rates in British Columbia were the highest in Canada; now, we’re No. 5. People just don’t see the opportunities here in British Columbia, so they’re going elsewhere to find them.”

One way a Conservative government would do that is a commitment to not raising taxes, explained Cummins.

In the last couple of weeks, the BC Conservatives have issued their Budget and Fiscal Framework, which outlines the financial constraints we see over the next five years, and their Pre-Election Platform, and Cummins says “there will be more to come over the next few weeks.”