In riding dependent on ferries, hopefuls look to make waves

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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 ferry-dependent 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.


lkines@timescolonist.com

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