Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said he does not want a repeat of BC Ferries’ performance during the Canada Day long weekend on the B.C. Day long weekend and beyond.
“We do not want to happen again, we do not expect that to happen again for the B.C. Day weekend or Labour Day weekend,” Fleming said Tuesday (July 4) at an unrelated event in Greater Victoria.
He made those comment after travellers on BC Ferries had to endure cancellations, long waits and periodic outages of the company’s website for the second long weekend in a row. Travellers also experienced disruptions on the Victoria Day long weekend.
“What we saw this (Canada Day) weekend was unacceptable,” Fleming, adding that the loss of a major vessel — the Coastal Celebration — serving the Greater Victoria-Greater Vancouver route exacerbated the situation.
BC Ferries had to cancel 48 sailings ahead of the Canada Day long weekend because crews had discovered problems with the vessel’s propulsion while it was undergoing refitting. It returned to service Tuesday (July 4), well behind the original return date of June 15.
These sail cancellations forced BC Ferries to spread reservations onto other vessels, cutting space for stand-by travellers. Labour shortages also led to cancellations.
Fleming’s assessment of BC Ferries’ performance came after its president and chief Nicholas Jimenez had publicly said that this past long weekend represented the new normal in the face of labour shortages.
“I think Mr. Jimenez is correct — every long weekend is always a challenge,” Fleming said.
But what made this weekend additionally stressful was the system’s reduced capacity stemming from the Coastal Celebration being out of service and labour shortages on later runs, Fleming added before issuing his expectation that future long weekends will unfold more smoothly.
All refit activities for the year are complete and all 20 vessels have done their safety trials, he said. BC Ferries has also just wrapped up what Fleming called the busiest hiring period in the company’s history.
“We have to do better,” Fleming said. “I said that before the long weekend and we will do better and I know that Mr. Jimenez is working on that and we’ll be sharing how that’s going to happen in advance of the B.C. Day weekend.”
Like all companies in the transportation industry, BC Ferries is dealing with labour shortages, Fleming said, adding that the company is moving in the right direction.
While Fleming did not directly answer whether Jimenez was down to his last strike after the Victoria Day and Canada Day long weekends, Fleming made it clear that the spotlight will be on him.
“It’s up to Mr. Jimenez and his executive team and everybody who works at BC Ferries to pull together and do better for the B.C. Day long weekend, which, in fact, I believe is busier than the Canada Day long weekend,” Fleming said. “So yes, it will be proving time that long weekend to make sure that what is always a testing, busy, long weekend is managed as well as it can be.”
Fleming also appeared to signal that BC Ferries should not necessarily expect any additional support from the province in pointing to a long list of investments since the NDP came to office, including $500 million to limit fare hikes.
Fleming praised BC Ferries’ decision to look at wages, even though the current labour agreement is valid through Oct. 31, 2025.
“I think it’s very good, very positive that BC Ferries is doing a wage re-opener that they don’t have to,” he said. “We want BC Ferries to be competitive and attracting skilled personnel.”
But he paired this statement with the expectation that some of the additional money from the province go toward that goal.
“We expect some of our additional money to go into those activities and make the company more efficient as well,” Fleming said.
“We have to solve the labour shortages in order to increase the reliability of the sailings…”