GREATER VICTORIA – If you live on Vancouver Island, you’re affected by BC Ferries service.
Not only is it a vital supply chain and transportation link connecting Islanders with the rest of the province and beyond, it is a major organization that employs our friends and neighbours.
On May 12, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce hosted BC Ferries President and CEO Mark Collins as we marked a successful return to in-person Business Leaders Luncheons. The positive energy in the room was palpable as more than 60 leaders from Greater Victoria gathered at the Coast Victoria Hotel & Marina by APA.
After introducing Mark and listening to his update on current challenges facing BC Ferries, I asked him a few questions that were on the minds of chamber members.
As with almost every organization these days, finding and keeping workers has been difficult for the corporation. There is a profound demographic shift, with a large bulk of workers retiring and fewer younger people choosing to take on traditional occupations. Combine a shrinking labour pool with rising costs for living here, and British Columbia is struggling to attract the talent needed for our economy to achieve its potential.
BC Ferries has addressed these challenges by stepping up recruitment efforts to find available workers and convince them to join the organization. A recent hiring blitz resulted in 500 new workers who will help address the crew shortages that had resulted in sailing cancellations. The hope is that workers who join the organization in entry level roles will see the benefit of staying with the organization, utilizing training opportunities to rise through the ranks to take on some of the more skilled mariner positions. It’s an example of the role that training and life-long learning can play in building economic resilience, and it’s great news for our region as we welcome the strong return of tourism season.
Another popular topic was the ongoing process to convert the BC Ferries fleet to low-carbon technologies such as diesel-electric. BC Ferries has invested hundreds of millions to make the switch, which Mark pointed out is more than any other ferry operator in North America. However, getting government approvals has turned out to be a sticking point, with 20 to 100 permit processes required per project. The bureaucracy has proven frustrating for everyone who is eager to take action to reduce harmful emissions. The same field of red tape is obscuring plans to modernize terminals, which could have huge ramifications for the resiliency of supply chains serving our region.
Closer to home, there was also a productive discussion about the next steps needed for a ferry between the West Shore and downtown Victoria. BC Ferries has embraced the idea at a high level and we now need the provincial government to fund a comprehensive review that can make a business case for the new route.
Colwood Mayor Rob Martin spoke eloquently about the opportunity, calling on business leaders in the room to add their voice to efforts by The Chamber and others. This is a good idea that can help solve a number of issues around affordable housing and available workforce. We just need the political will to make it happen.
The Chamber has a long history of working with BC Ferries to connect this vital Island link with leaders in Greater Victoria’s business community and it was great to hold another successful in person meeting.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce