BC ferries and the BC Election
A Time To Rage
The B.C. Election and B.C.Ferries
by Robin Mathews
The only thing worse than shouting ³Fire² in a closed theatre is to shout
³Nothing is Wrong. Everyone Sit Still² as smoke pours over the audience and
flames lick up the curtains.
Something IS wrong. The lives Canadians have lived, involving Medicare,
pensions, fair labour practices, decent seniorsı care, safe hospitals,
relative equality of access to transportation, energy, air, and water and,
finally meaningful participation in democratic government are all under
The theatre we are in is on fire.
Many Canadians are saying, ³Nothing is wrong. Everyone sit still.² Even
people in the front lines are saying that. Take the spokespeople of the B.C.
Ferry and Marine workers Union and their public supporters, for instance.
But before we do, letıs look at the fire in the theatre. Ordinary people
you and me are facing attack all over the world. The decent things
populations have enjoyed over the last fifty years are under full-scale,
They are under attack in China, which recently did away with universal
medical care. They are under attack in Europe, daily. A German ³enterprise²
has begun a ³race to the bottom² labour auction. Jobs are posted at a going
wage, and applicants are invited to bid for them by offering themselves for
less the lowest bidders getting the jobs.
The new European constitution has a third section which is, in fact, a free
trade section written to raise the powers of Corporations above the powers
of democratic governments. That is only one part of an attack in Europe by
corporate interests egged on by the European Union bureaucracy on
pensions, wages, education, labour freedoms, and much more.
In the U.S., leader of the attack on the ordinary, publicly assured, human
benefits for the people, slashing ³social securities² has been a major
action of the Bush government.
What has all that to do with B.C. Ferries and the people who make them go?
Everything. The attack on ordinary people you and me isnıt just
happening at B.C. Ferries, in B.C. generally, or in Canada. Itıs a global
happening that has to be met by rage, resistance, organization, and
political action to take over the levers of powerSfor ordinary people.
The fight for B.C. Ferries is a piece of the fight against Corporate
takeover of countries around the world. The ferry fight matters most to B.C.
Ferries workers and their families and to other British Columbians. But it
The B.C. Ferry workers spokespeople, however, and their public supporters
are saying, ³Nothing is wrong. Everyone sit still. Go to sleep². Take the
four page flyer they distributed widely in March, 2005 a run-up to the
B.C. election, obviously. Called ³Strait Talk² its overall message is S
well, letıs see what it is.
Remember ³Strait Talk² is dealing with a voter-unwanted theft of B.C.
Ferries to please private corporations and make money for them. The
behaviour of the ³new² entity has combined sleaze with secrecy and
³Strait Talk² has a lead story, an ³opener² the first chance to engage
readers with the big problems. It reads like a sleepy Board of Trade
advertisement. Getting through it is work even trying to figure out why
Then, in the last paragraph, tepid, hesitant, (scared?) you read: ³Powell
River is dependent on its marine highway². And you read: ³The privatization
of B.C. Ferries S will bring changes to our marine highway S.² (And will
they be good?) Thatıs the lead story!
What comes next ? The rest of the front page is a story arising out of a
Town Meeting on the ferries future chaired by Stewart Alsgard, Powell River
Mayor, January 26, 2005. (I wrote it up here. See ³Farce at the Evergreen
Theatre².) Present were David Hahn, the CEO of the new Ferry Fiasco
appointed out of the U.S. and his straight man, Robert Clark, vice-president
What does the other front page story tells us? It spends the first third of
its space quoting a (perfectly reasonable) disclaimer by B.C. Ferries that
the proposed future to be spoken about at the Town Meeting may not be cast
in stone. That disclaimer deserves to be dismissed in a phrase. It is
Then the rest of the article presents in needlessly complicated language
a ³nice² view of the new B.C. Ferries which has been stolen from the people
of British Columbia. The article, for instance, has the insanity to say that
Martin Crilly, Commissioner of Ferries, was appointed as ³an independent
arbiter². Crillyıs position was created and he was hired to be an instrument
of Gordon Campbell Liberal policy: to destroy the B.C. Ferries owned by
He is an independent arbiter if Adolf Eichman was an independent deliverer
of Jews, Gypsies, and political dissidents to the Nazi death camps.
Instead of saying WHY B.C. Ferries is being botched, alienated, and
privatized because of Campbell Liberal Toxic Right Ideology and
determination to give all the wealth of British Columbians to private
corporations, the writer treats the sell-out as normal and reasonable,
adding only a few gentle ³buts².
The writer gives no report of David Hahnıs nasty, condescending, bully-boy
behaviour at the January 26 meeting and his refusal to talk about anything
he didnıt want to talk about.
Go inside ³Strait Talk² which is anything but straight talk. An article
which should be headlined ³B.C. Ferries Sinks Deeper in Debt and Bad
Management² is entitled ³Will Coastal Communities Catch the Spirit of 2010².
And then, again, in needlessly complicated, dampened language it presents
what should be explosive information about Ferries policy that can only
In the ³Strait Talk² publication there are some signed articles, with more
material. But the first page and a half extend an invitation to the reader
to fall asleep or to read something else. Of the signed articles, the NDP
and Green Party candidates state their positions. The future of the ferry
system is the key issue in the paper, and both political parties have
platform policies to return B.C. Ferries to Crown Corporation status. Only
Adrienne Carr (the Greens) says so. (Whoıs editing this paper, anyhow?)
Another signed article is by a Raging Granny. But thereıs no rage. Not even
any anger. Not even quiet dismay. Only a ³ha ha, arenıt they in a pickle?²
kind of musing. The title ³Storm Warning by a Raging Gran² would probably be
better if the ³R² was dropped. Then the reader would know what to expect
from the article.
Just resigned union head, Jackie Miller, should have an article entitled:
³Getting Our Ferries Back². Instead, hers is called, ³Requiem for a Ferry
Fleet². Howıs that for willing suicide? We British Columbians have the right
to read a tough, up-to-date, angry, hard-hitting attack on the dirty Ferry
Corporation deeds of Gordon Campbell, David Hahn, David Emerson, and Martin
Crilly from Jackie Miller. We have a right to read an ardent call to arms to
save B.C. Ferries. Instead, Jackie Miller gives a limp, chronological
history of ferries in B.C. for the first half of her article. (Are you
She reflects the attitude of the Ferry Union spokespeople and their public
supporters so well its painful. She writes that the BCFMWU ³has been quietly
and steadily spreading the word about the loss of the formerly publicly
owned system.² So quietly, in fact, British Columbians canıt hear whatıs
being said. And she goes on to say about the Deas Island strike and
lock-out: ³We will continue to fight the labour battle privately as much as
we are able.²
What? Privately? A labour/management situation of concern to everyone in
Canada and especially to B.C.ıers. And youıll fight it privately?
That is a way of saying the BCFMWU spokespeople have accepted the completely
false rhetoric of Campbell, Hahn and the other corporate totalitarians
that the fight for British Columbiaıs ferry enterprise is a private squabble
between two ³corporate² entities: the new, stolen Ferry Operation bullies
and the Ferry union.
Nothing could be further from the truth. And no statement in the sad,
dreary, hand-wringing ³Strait Talk² could be more revealing.
Since the March ³Strait Talk² appeared, Jackie Miller has resigned from the
leadership of the BCFMWU. How can she? Going into the most important B.C.
election for the BCFMWU members in the history of B.C. Ferries, Jackie
Miller who should be leading a tough, tenacious fight against the Campbell
Liberals, has resigned. ²For personal reasonsS.² No personal reasons are
good enough. Something is very, very wrong at BCFMWU headquarters.
This is a time to be angry, to rage. This is a time for ALL ferry workers to
tell everyone, angrily, what the lousy Campbell government is doing to ferry
workers and the ferry operation. It is time for them to fight with their
³Strait Talk² masks or avoids ten points that should be written large on one
of the pages of the publication.
(1) The Campbell election campaign did not promise to privatize B.C.
(2) The Hahn managers tried to break the ferry union by forcing a strike
upon the union.
(3) During the strike of BCFMWU workers, the Hahn bosses tried to get
qualified scabs from elsewhere in Canada and from the U.S.A.
(4) B.C. Ferries has cut workers, made disguised fare increases, and is
using more tax-payersı money than before. The Campbell government is using
taxpayersı money to lure foreign, private takeover candidates, taking the
ferry enterprise deeper and deeper into debt.
(5) Martin Crillyıs job was created to push through private corporate
takeover of B.C.Ferries. He is not in any way an independent arbiter.
(6) The offshore building of ferries is an insult to British Columbians,
a blow to B.C. ship-building workers, and a sell-out to highly subsidized
(7) To hide its dirty work, the Campbell government legislated
destruction of democracy: cutting off all the dealings of David Hahn and his
lackeys from Access to Information, the Ombudsman, and the B.C. Labour
(8) Gordon Campbell couldnıt find a Canadian (among 30 million) to run
B.c. Ferries. He hired (for $315,000 a year) a U.S. citizen (who had never
before worked with ferries) from a bankrupt and dubious Oenergy and otherı
(9) David Hahn was not hired as an effective administrator but as someone
who has been in on the disintegration of assets and operations. If the
Campbel Liberal/Hahn plan works, he will be out of a job, after breaking up
B.C. Ferries and handing the chunks to (probably foreign) corporations.
(10) As I reported in ³Farce at the Evergreen Theatre² the Nanaimo Daily
News published a thoroughly credible column accusing the new B.C. Ferries
bullies of sacrificing safety to slick corporate image. The Granny article
suggests the whole new safety rescue system is part of that dangerous scam,
but she says it breezily and turns it into a joke.
If you can find any of those ten facts at all, or focused upon, in ³Strait
Talk² youıll need a microscope and lots of patience.
If you expect rage, go elsewhere.
³Strait Talk²isnıt shouting ³Fire² in a theatre that is burning before our
eyes. It looks away from the fire, pretending it isnıt there. ³Strait Talk²
tragedy of tragedies is a total failure to serve the members of the B.C.
Ferry Workers Union. Itıs a failure to inform and provide leadership to
other British Columbians. Itıs a failure to join the global struggle against
corporate bullies and corporate totalitarians.
³Strait Talk² is sad, so sad it makes a caring Canadian want to weep.