Monday, December 18, 2006

Has the BC Government taken their eyes off the horizon?

The Province’s own Auditor General has taken the province to task for losing control of the province’s ferry fleet. By allowing the Ferry Corporation as much independence as it has over the last few years, it has evolved to the point where it is no longer answerable to its largest shareholder, the province and people of British Columbia.

The report will be a bit of an embarrassment to the Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon who has had a rocky time of it lately as his Ministry watches the Ferry Corporation lurch from one storm to another as far public perception of its service goes.

Deputy Auditor General Errol Prices report was a pretty valuable document for North Coast MLA Gary Coons, who has been a frequent critic of the Government over its handling of the many issues at B C Ferries. To have the province's own Auditor General provide a rather damning report on the structure of the company is kind of like a lawyer having his case handed to him with white gloves, all that remains is for the sentencing to begin.

It will be quite interesting to see how Coons and Falcon approach the debate and interpret the report for their respective agendas.

The full story on the Auditors report was included in Friday’s Daily News.

By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, December 15, 2006

Page One

A new report by the province’s Auditor General says that government has lost control of B.C. Ferries by transforming the Crown corporation into a private one.

“B.C. Ferries’ increased independence means that it is no longer answerable to government as shareholder,” said Deputy Auditor General Errol Price.

“Although the operating company is legally owned by the independent B.C. Ferry Authority, significant risks and benefits of ownership remain with the province.”

He recommended that government establish criteria to evaluate the performance of the new ferry system and conduct periodic evaluations to determine when or if changes should be made to the Coastal Ferry Act.

The news comes on the heals of news that B.C. Ferries ordered records specific to the Queen of the North’s operation destroyed, five days after the vessel’s sinking.

In light of the recent revelations, North Coast MLA Gary Coons said it’s clear the government can no longer sit on the sidelines.

“The safety of the BC Ferries fleet is a concern for all British Columbians,” said Coons. “Several incidents since the company was privatized have shaken the public’s confidence. And every time we try to get more information, the government and the corporation block our efforts. The latest revelation that officials destroyed documents reinforces the need to increase accountability measures. Public scrutiny will only help ensure safety.”

He said the Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, must take a leadership role. He needs to look at the actions of both David Hahn, B.C. Ferries CEO, and the BC Ferries board of directors and ensure we have public confidence in our ferries.

“Previously the opposition called on Minister Falcon to release all correspondence concerning safety between his ministry and B.C. Ferries and to proactively look after the many safety concern. Now is the time for government action. Now is the time for the minister to act,”” he said.

In 2003, the government privatized the B.C. Ferries corporation under the Coastal Ferry Act.
Deputy Auditor General Errol Price. said the transformation of BC Ferries, undertaken in 2003, has allowed BC Ferries to control its own financial and operating decisions, including the timing and cost of ferry replacement.

The Coastal Ferry Act placed oversight of the B.C. Ferries system under a newly appointed B.C. Ferries Commissioner.

In the report, the Auditor General’s Office recommends any concerns raised by the British Columbia Ferries Commissioner in his annual report should be addressed. Currently, the company is under no obligation to do so.

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