Thursday, September 25, 2008

Out of sight, out of mind; off the path, out of luck!

They’re feeling even more isolated than usual on Haida Gwaii these days, that after a couple of announcements that see some pretty basic island requirements getting cut back or suspended for lengthy periods of time.

Canada Post has reduced postal service to the Charlottes to something of the Pony express era, with few of the fancy postal options available in Prince Rupert and other Canadian centre’s available there and mail delivery reduced to a few days a week.

Come January however, even that less than remarkable standard for mail delivery may seem like the modern era, as BC Ferries shuts down Ferry service for a month to repair the dock in Skidegate.

The timing of the Ferry Corporation’s decision will make for a rather tight and possibly disruptive timetable, as the re-introduction of ferry service will only take place scant days before the annual All Native Basketball tournament gets underway. The ANT is an event which relies heavily on BC Ferries to make sure that the large number of participants and fans from Haida Gwaii can make it to Rupert. A few delays during the reconstruction phase and schedule makers at the tournament may have some serious headaches to deal with in February.

The Daily News provided some background today on both of the issues, a continuation of a string of news items from the Charlottes that must have residents wondering what century they are living in and if that funny little land called Canada knows that they exist…
The BC Ferries story was highlighted as the front page headline story in Wednesday's paer.
Ferry to Haida Gwaii will be out of water in January, prompting Islanders' concerns
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Pages one and two
BC Ferries announced Monday that it will not be sailing from Skidegate to Prince Rupert at all in January.

The lack of the popular ferry service will leave the Islands without normal service from Jan. 5 until Feb. 5, one day before the all-important 50th All-Native Basketball Tournament (ANT).
"It's something we are going to have to talk to BC Ferries about," said ANT vice president Paul Haugan. "Definitely, this is not good because what if they fall behind schedule it's cutting it real close."

Haugan would like to see the delay moved up a couple of weeks so that the cancellation does not interfere with ATN travel plans.

But that would move dock work plans into Christmas, an unlikely scenario.

BC Ferries said it has considered the ANT but that the scheduling was unavoidable because of the expected arrival of the new ferryboat, the Northern Adventure, which arrives in the spring. "We have to do extensive dock modifications so we are going to have to completely shut down the Skidegate dock," said BC Ferries communications representative Deborah Marshall.

The decision was made last week after meeting with the BC Ferry North Coast Advisory Committee. The work is being done to prepare the docks in Skidegate and Prince Rupert in order to be ready for the arrival of the Northern Adventure.

Village of Queen Charlotte Mayor Carol Kulesha, who sits on the advisory committee, said that original plan was to take up to eight and a half weeks but the advisory board was totally against that.

"The dock upgrade workers will be working day-and-night and the exact timing of the job is three and a half weeks, with an extra week to make sure everything gets done," said Kulesha.
She said BC Ferries asked whether or not the Queen of Prince Rupert could land somewhere else around the Charlottes but was told that there were no harbours deep enough to handle a ferry of that size.

Instead of a ferry service, the company will provide round-trip air service twice a week between the North Coast destinations. However, that air service will only carry a maximum of 160 people each week between the locations - 640 people during the month. Priority will be given to the sick and those with emergency needs.

Normally, the BC Ferries service carries 1,400 passengers in January along the route. "We are recommending that people make their travel arrangements outside of that one-month window," said Marshall.

"We know that most of the riders who use the ferry service take their cars with them and, talking to the ferry advisory committee, it's our feeling that (passengers) will plan outside the one-month window."

For goods being shipped between Skidegate and Prince Rupert, BC Ferries has hired a tug-and-barge company to make sure mail and food products get through to the Queen Charlottes.

Mail service has Haida Gwaii feeling second-class
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Village of Queen Charlotte Mayor Carol Kulesha thinks the Queen Charlottes have been partitioned from the rest of Canada.

Kulesha has come to this conclusion because of a decision made by Canada Post to ditch their Priority mail service from the Islands. That decision was made when Canada Post cancelled its air delivery service contract with Air Canada.

"This is utterly ridiculous," said Kulesha.

"There is no priority service, there is no expedited service, there is no Xpress post, as a matter of fact a first-class stamp means that you can ship your mail three times a week off the Island and you can receive mail twice a week and that's all through the ferries."

However, come January, there will be no ferry for one month.

Kulesha said she has been told that the truck and barge company handling commercial trucking traffic will bring the mail along with it.

According to the Canada Post Corporation Act, the mail service provider is mandated by law to deliver to almost every nook and cranny with the exception of urgent letters (i.e. express mail).
But that does not douse the fire burning inside her.

"I can't get in touch with anyone from Canada Post," said Kulesha. "I am looking for that contact."

Kulesha said she has been forced to file a complaint online under Canada Post's webmail but so far all she has received in the form of an answer is a complaint number and assurance she will be answered.

She wondered why there was no one available to answer her questions.
"There is no senior bureaucrat that I know of," Kulesha said.

She claimed to have only found out about the change in mail service through an article in the newspaper.

According to the Queen Charlottes Observer, Canada Post was notified that Air Canada wanted to bail on their $35-million contract and was given 120 days to find another solution for their airmail service.

Millions have been spent on buying DC-10 airplanes to fly in between major centers but Canada Post has spent no new money on keeping up the priority service for Islanders. Canada Post has said that the situation on the Charlottes is no different to many rural regions of the country.

This has left Kulesha without any idea what Islanders are gong to do about overnight or express mail service.

"Whoever knew that snail mail is the correct term," said Kulesha.
Canada Post could not be reached before deadline.

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