In rid­ing de­pen­dent on fer­ries, hope­fuls look to make waves

SAANICH NORTH AND THE IS­LANDS: In 2013, the NDP’s Hol­man won by 163 votes

Times Colonist - - The Capital - LIND­SAY KINES lkines@times­colonist.com

The in­tense bat­tle for Saanich North and the Is­lands con­tin­ues to at­tract the at­ten­tion of party lead­ers in the run-up to the B.C. elec­tion on May 9.

John Hor­gan was the lat­est head­liner to stop by the rid­ing Thurs­day to whip up sup­port for in­cum­bent NDP can­di­date Gary Hol­man.

Stand­ing on the shores of Swartz Bay, with fer­ries pass­ing in the dis­tance, Hor­gan re­peated his prom­ise to re­store free week­day ferry fares for se­niors, cut fares on smaller routes and freeze fares on ma­jor routes pend­ing a re­view of B.C. Fer­ries.

Lib­eral can­di­date Mike de Jong, who served as fi­nance min­is­ter the past five years, says the NDP’s ferry prom­ises will cost far more than the party ad­mits in its plat­form, but Hor­gan dis­missed that crit­i­cism as “non­sense.”

“We’re a vi­tal part of the prov­ince, we de­serve the same level of re­spect from gov­ern­ment that other parts of B.C. [re­ceive],” he said. “We’ve haven’t been get­ting that un­der the B.C. Lib­er­als.”

The NDP leader needs to hold the fer­ry­de­pen­dent rid­ing with its large pop­u­la­tion of se­niors if he hopes to form gov­ern­ment. Hol­man won the seat by just 163 votes over Lib­eral Stephen P. Roberts in 2013, while Adam Olsen of the B.C. Green Party fin­ished a close third.

All three are back for the re­match and Hor­gan ad­mits it will be an­other nail-biter.

“I be­lieve this is go­ing to be a tight, tight race, but I know Gary and I know how hard he’s work­ing,” Hor­gan said.

“It’s go­ing to stay in the or­ange col­umn and we’re go­ing to form a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment on May 9.”

The Greens have equally high hopes for the rid­ing, which is held fed­er­ally by Green Party of Canada Leader El­iz­a­beth May. She joined B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver in the rid­ing last week as he tries to ex­pand his beach­head in Oak Bay-Gor­don Head.

“All of the in­di­ca­tors for the cam­paign are very good for us right now,” Olsen said Thurs­day. “There’s a huge amount of mo­men­tum grow­ing.”

Olsen said Lib­er­als’ mis­man­age­ment of the ferry sys­tem will be a key is­sue. The Greens are com­mit­ted to restor­ing B.C. Fer­ries as a Crown cor­po­ra­tion and con­duct­ing a full re­view be­fore promis­ing any changes, he said.

“The ex­per­i­ment that the B.C. Lib­er­als have had has not worked. I’m hear­ing it clearly in our rid­ing the im­pact this is hav­ing on the Gulf Is­land com­mu­ni­ties.”

He crit­i­cized the NDP, how­ever, for making spe­cific prom­ises in the ab­sence of a com­pre­hen­sive re­view.

“Cer­tainly, I’ll be a huge ad­vo­cate for the Gulf Is­land com­mu­ni­ties and for Van­cou­ver Is­land and en­sur­ing that we re­turn us back to a po­si­tion where we see the fer­ries as a very, very valu­able and im­por­tant part of our trans­porta­tion net­work,” he said.

“But what you don’t see from the B.C. Greens are th­ese bou­tique prom­ises that are there just to at­tract votes. I think we’re tak­ing a more re­spon­si­ble ap­proach in tak­ing a look at the sys­tem over­all.”

Roberts could not be reached for com­ment Thurs­day, but the Lib­er­als are hop­ing their new Is­land plat­form will help them re­gain the seat once held by former Lib­eral cabi­net min­is­ter Mur­ray Coell.

The plat­form prom­ises a B.C. Fer­ries’ loy­alty pro­gram by 2020 to cut costs for fre­quent users in ferry-de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties. Un­til that’s in place, the Lib­er­als say they will of­fer a tax de­duc­tion of 25 per cent of ferry fares up to $1,000 to off­set costs to users in those same com­mu­ni­ties.

“This means that Is­land res­i­dents can re­duce their ferry fares by up to $250 per year if they spend $1,000 on B.C. Ferry fares,” the plat­form states.

JONATHAN HAY­WARD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

B.C. NDP Leader John Hor­gan prom­ises to re­store free week­day ferry fares for se­niors, cut fares on smaller routes and freeze fares on ma­jor B.C. Fer­ries routes.

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