Friday, January 23, 2009

Mr. Hahn Begs to Differ with Mr Coons.

BC Ferries President and CEO David Hahn has apparently had enough of the latest commentary from NDP Ferries critic and North Coast MLA Gary Coons.

In an article in Thursday's paper, Hahn counters a number of recent observations and commentaries from Mr. Coons regarding the status of the financial health and morale at the Ferry Corporation.

Suggesting that Mr. Coons doesn't quite have a grasp on the finances of the system, Hahn said that recent staffing cuts at the Ferry corporation were more a result of the current economic environment in the world, than any indication of the need for serious concern for the Ferry Corporation.

Hahn was responding to comments made over the last few days by the NDP ferries critic which outlined a number of Mr. Coons concerns over the state of the system of which so many British Columbians depend on a daily basis. (see here and here)

He also advised that any rumours of his imminent departure at the helm of the Ferry Corporation were wrong and that he has no plans to step down or leave at this time.

Which should be good news for news reporters looking for quotes as one of BC's most intriguing of political feuds continues on.

Mr. Hahn's full rebuttal of the latest comments from his most vociferous critic appeared in interview form in Thursday's Daily News.

BC Ferries boss hits back at his harshest critic
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Pages one and three

BC Ferries President and CEO David Hahn said his organization is yet another victim of the declining global economy. But he guaranteed that he would not be cutting services around the province.

In a one-on-one interview with the Daily News, Hahn said he is no longer willing to be Gary Coons whipping boy and said while he does not intend to be involved in the politics leading up to the provincial election - and he said he is not going to allow Coons to use him as a political tool.

Hahn reacted after Coons revealed his organization was letting go of 35 managers on Tuesday.

"I think his agenda is always political. I kind of discount it all. I'm not sure he has a good grasp on how the ferry system’s finances work because he does not have a financial background," said Hahn.

He said he has made repeated offers to Coons visit the BC Ferries head office and ask questions about financial information but said Coons has refused to do it.

"He's always claiming there is no information coming out of BC Ferries but he refuses to do it because If he looked at it and if he understood the financial statements, he would see that we are not in dire straits, we have really strong cash-flow, which means we can afford all the debt that we have," said Hahn.

It is a fact that BC Ferries is carrying a substantial debt load. Hahn claimed that the debt load stood at $1 4 billion. While the enormity of that number would be daunting to most British Columbians, Hahn said that the debt load has nothing to do with BC Ferries serious managerial cuts. He said the debt load could be attributed to getting a bankrupt ferry system out of the rubble of the 90s.

And Hahn defended the cuts as a necessary cost -saving measure.In its second quarter release, BC Ferries did report a downturn in traffic across the province.

In response to the decline, BC Ferries reported that it had undertaken a number of cost-saving measures, including deferring filling staff vacancies and reducing or deferring corporate travel, consulting, advertising and other discretionary expenditures.

Lower travel numbers from US tourists to B.C. has also taken a large chunk out of BC Ferries operating.

According to Tourism BC statistics released Tuesday, visitor flow from the U.S. was down 11.2 per cent in 2008 from 2007."People have known this has been coming for a while. It's pretty ordinary anywhere else but it's pretty extraordinary at BC Ferries, right?" said Hahn.

Hahn said he does not apologize for using words like "transition" when explaining laying-off workers. According to him, four of the 35 workers who were let go were actually voluntary early retirements and he said he used the term that befits the scenario.

As reported yesterday, BC Ferries' top man Hahn used the softer term for terminating the management positions in an effort to restructure the company's finances, which he said has been seriously hurt by lower ridership levels across the system.

"I think the people (at BC Ferries) knew that the traffic had been down for some time," said Hahn. "The past few months it's taken on the approach that we all have to work together to do some cost containment to help us make sure we stay within the boundaries of what is acceptable performance. I think everyone knew we were watching it."

"People expect us to do it - to manage (BC Ferries) carefully."

That will continue, said Hahn. And so will his leadership of the ferry service.

Hahn dispelled rumours of his imminent departure from BC Ferries. There had been speculation by critics that he was about to step down from the ferry operator's top post. But Hahn said he isn't going anywhere.

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