Conservative candidates John Duncan and Mark MacDonald announced support for passenger-only ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver at a news conference Sept. 10.

Conservative candidates John Duncan and Mark MacDonald announced support for passenger-only ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver at a news conference Sept. 10.

Conservatives offer support for Nanaimo-Vancouver ferry

Election opponents question timing, sincerity of the announcement

Courtenay-Alberni Conservative candidate John Duncan, accompanied by Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidate Mark MacDonald, announced Thursday, Sept. 10, that a “re-elected Conservative government will provide the required financial support to establish the Island Ferries proposal.”

Island Ferry Services Ltd. is a private company that wants to establish passenger-only service between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver using high speed vessels, capable of whisking 376 passengers between the Island and Vancouver’s SeaBus terminal in 68 minutes.

The total cost of the project is not clear, although it has been estimated at over $60 million in some reports. Duncan did not peg the amount of federal money that would be provided, but did mention during an announcement at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre that Island Ferries is seeking $14 million.

“I consider that a reasonable ask,” he is quoted in the Nanaimo Bulletin. “There’s a huge private sector investment involved.”

Island Ferry Services spokesperson Dave Marshall said 82 percent of the project funding will come from the private sector.

Topping up the funding with federal money makes sense, Duncan said. “This service will be a real game-changer for Vancouver Island.”

Some are wondering which game the Conservatives are trying to change with their announcement in the midst of a federal election.

Green candidate in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding Paul Manly said he supports passenger-only, high speed ferry service. “It makes a lot of sense,” he said.

But Manly questions the timing of the announcement. “I think this is too little, too late from the Conservatives,” he said. “This is cheap electioneering. If they believed in this, why didn’t they bring it forward sooner.”

Comments quoted in the Nanaimo Bulletin suggest Island Ferry Services is banking on connections within the Conservative Party of Canada.

“We still have the election before the funding comes, but this is a significant step,” said Stewart Vinnels, an Island Ferries executive. “It’s a significant commitment and we know where our friends are on that.”

Commentary on the timing of the announcement has also appeared on Island Ferry Service’s Facebook page.

Posted Laura Currie: “Is Island Ferries staying politically neutral on this or is Island Ferries backing the Conservative candidate? I assume Island Ferries would accept the same type of pledge from the NDP or Libs?”

A later post by Island Ferry Services said it wanted to avoid any political commentary, and that it would remove any comments that strayed into politics.

“While Island Ferries appreciates the political debate and banter, IFSL prefers our FB page remain focused on what we are trying to do for Nanaimo and Vancouver Island,” it says.

“Island Ferries goal has been and continues to be to establish a service in demand by 90+% of Nanaimo residents. And, having worked with the current government for 13 months, are seeing that work come to some sort of fruition.”

NDP Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidate Sheila Malcolmson also weighed in on the issue.

““I want to see the foot ferry proposal succeed and I will work for that if elected,” she said.

“For far too long, coastal communities have faced the challenges of a major transportation infrastructure deficit under the Harper Conservatives.”

She noted the disparity between funding for ferry services on the west and east coasts. The federal government kicks in about $28 million for ferry services in B.C. says a Union of BC Municipalities study, or $1.40 per passenger; on the east coast the feds provide $493 per passenger.

“What I’d love to see is Stephen Harper and the out-going MP, John Duncan, explain why BC gets such little support compared to Atlantic Canada,” Malcolmson said.