When it comes to the future of the BC Liberal Party in Island and Coastal ridings, I've heard lots about doctor and nurse shortages, childcare, cost of living, homelessness and tent cities, fisheries and forestry, and transportation on land and water.
I've heard two messages loud and clear:
1. Our party needs deep and authentic renewal to move forward.
2. We need to fundamentally reset our relationship with local voters.
Let’s be honest about the elephant in the room: many people that I’ve talked to in ferry-dependent communities are furious at how much ferry costs have risen, how little services have improved, and how little accommodation there is for locals on issues like reservations or medical trips.
Adjusted for inflation, ferry fares have doubled since 1990.
Fares spiked in the 1990s due to the NDP’s fast ferry fiasco and continued to rise under the BC Liberal government. Investment in BC’s “island highways” has languished relative to other transportation infrastructure across the province.
That’s not fiscal fairness.
Some of the most frustrated people I’ve talked to, including some very committed BC Liberals, feel like our party back-burnered a fifth of BC’s population because their ridings didn’t vote for us.
That’s no way to build a relationship with ferry-dependent voters.
The bottom line is that over the last few elections our Island and Coastal seat count has gone from four to two to one to zero out of fifteen seats. We have become the third party on the Island, lagging behind the Greens.
Breaking out of that tailspin requires a serious rethink of our approach, and serious reset of our relationship with people and families in ferry-dependent communities.
A telling metaphor is the recent cancellation of wireless internet on major BC Ferries routes, after more than a decade of mediocre service. Instead of finding a way to make it better, they just quietly gave up trying, and didn’t really tell anyone. I walked past someone on my ferry back to the Mainland who was trying over and over to connect to a network that simply doesn’t exist any more.
Let’s not let that lack of connection be a metaphor for our party on the Island.
We can and must restore fiscal fairness for ferry-dependent communities, we can and must do better for people and families and businesses, and we can and must rebuild our party’s grassroots in Island and Coastal ridings.