Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Whither goeth the walk-on ferry?

Oct 27, 2015

By Merv Unger

So, where do we go from here with the walk-on ferry project?

Now that the federal election campaign is over and any promises are null and void, does it finally sail off into the sunset? At least with the current proponent who has been trying to bring his plan to fruition for a number of years, without success.

The Conservatives promised to support the concept if re-elected, but that didn't happen. They never attached any dollar figure to their support.

We all know what "support" means in the language of politics. Many feel both the federal Liberals and Conservatives still owe Nanaimo in the neighborhood of $17 million promised by both of them for the Vancouver Island Conference Centre while it was being built. We’re still waiting.

There's no debate that we need a passenger-only ferry service between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver. The question is how do we get there?

There have been many hurdles for this project. Financing has been the fly in the ointment right from the beginning, and expected Asian investment seems to have fizzled with the Asian economic downturn.

The city has gone above and beyond in trying to make this project happen, but it is restricted on what it can and cannot do. It cannot finance private businesses, and that's a good thing. The Nanaimo Port Authority is also restricted from investing in private business enterprises.

The city bought the former Welcox property, part of which was designated for the ferry operation. But it still needs a dock, terminal, paved parking and utilities. Buying land is usually a sound investment. Then leasing it to an operator makes solid business sense. Don't think the land purchase was a bad idea, it can be used for numerous other purposes.
In most cases, that would be a solid argument. However, just a few feet down the shoreline sits a fairly new cruise ship dock, and an award-winning passenger terminal which is turnkey ready. There's also acres and acres of paved parking availability, and the land has utility services on it. It's available for lease. The cruise dock can accommodate both a ferry and cruiseships.

So why re-invent the wheel when it's already there? If the city wants to be involved there has to be a serious discussion with other players.

As mentioned above, thankfully the city is prohibited from investing directly in the ferry business. To get around that obstacle the city turned it over the to the Nanaimo Economic Development office, a supposedly arms-length operation of the city. Doing the end-run financial assistance through NEDC makes it look like a shell game.

The first question to be asked is whether such financial investment by NEDC could lead to further taxpayer involvement in the future?

The present deal on the table apparently is not the only game in town. We're hearing suggestions of other proposals already "in the vest pocket" from some other operators, waiting for this deal to go away. Whoever it is, better have a fat wallet with their own money. But nobody will make proposals as long as there is a possible deal on the table. The city needs to divest itself of any commitment to the present deal on the table. It needs to clear the deck so it can look at other proposals, if there are any.

That would preferably be someone with transportation experience and the money to back it up.

The city needs to work with other players such as the Nanaimo Regional District and the NPA rather than in opposition. At present there's too much "who's on first" attitude to make anything happen. It shouldn’t matter who gets the credit, but that it gets done.

Merv Unger is a retired journalist living in Nanaimo, B.C.



  1. You want to know where? The Walk On Ferry should go away from my wallet. The City should not be contributing financially, either directly or indirectly (including shell games) to such a scheme. If it is such a feasible business concept then let private money fly with it. Just one tax weary payer's opinion.

  2. Has anyone contacted Clipper Navigation of Victoria and the new Australian ferry operator, Riverside Marine? Clipper Navigation already exists, travelling between Victoria and Seattle and Riverside Marine will also be offering passenger only between Victoria and Vancouver next summer.

  3. Maybe Riverside Marine isn't interested because it's not feasible?Just like corporations who build hotels they know what can make a buck and what wont.Also Mr Makay under whose direction where going to the Premier and asking for the province to NOT put on price sales on the BC Ferries which would cost us more money to travel!Try doing your job which is looking after the interest of the citizens not your corporate buddy's!

  4. And not a cent from the taxpayer.

    1. So what .

      Sometimes one has to pay a little to get a little. The upside, of course, is we would benefit immensely from a ferry. Give your head a shake please.

  5. Nonaimo in it's full glory, so boring, so myopic

    ps... the company in Victoria stated it is a 'tourist' boat only, very expensive, not many sailings, and takes a bit of time. They are not doing the commuter thing

  6. Yes it is a tourist boat; it is a private enterprise tourist boat.
    The taxpayer is over burdened with bailing out private enterprise.

  7. wrong, like the US, we should be investing heavily in some private enterprises,especially transportation.

    ie most of silicone valley, and even Tesla motors would not exist, had it not been for concentrated effort by both US govt and private industry------look it up. Tax breaks etc.. do not work, govt. investment is the key. Taxpayers benefit with taxpayer dollars invested wisely.

  8. The promoters of this project come to the table cap in hand whilst offering little to nothing of their own monies.
    These guys are not asking for a top up, they are asking for most of the expense to come from the taxpayer.
    The proposal has all the trappings of the cruise ship terminal.
    Bailing out Madills before they left town would have been a better proposition.


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