Transport Canada Regulations Risk BC Ferries' Passengers and Workers

MP Malcolmson's letter to Transport Minister Garneau

July 4, 2018


The Honourable Marc Garneau, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Transport
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6


Dear Minister Garneau,

I trust the summer is treating you well.

Here on BC’s coast, over 20 million passengers a year are carried by BC Ferries to their homes and holidays, through fast currents, sensitive ecology, and busy shipping channels. Passengers and workers rely on strong safety standards, and it’s in that context I return to our exchange in Parliament in the final days of this session:

Ms Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo—Ladysmith, NDP): “Mr. Speaker, the transport minister has the mandate to improve marine safety, but BC Ferry & Marine Workers' Union says a new ruling of Transport Canada has left engine rooms unattended. This risks passenger safety on the new Salish class ferries. With engineers five decks above critical machinery and steering equipment, this risks collision. Millions ride these ferries. Can this really be true? Do the Liberals actually have weaker staffing rules for passenger ferries than for bulk cargo ships?”

Hon. Marc Garneau (Minister of Transport, Lib.): “Mr. Speaker, as you have heard me say so many times before, security and safety is my number one priority and it applies not only to rail, it also applies to all modes of transport conveyance and that includes ferries. When we make a decision about a regulation, it is after very careful thought and an analysis of the risk management involved and we do not take these things lightly”.

(Hansard, June 18, 2018)

Video of the exchange available here:

Minister, will you please explain how you came to decide that this risk is acceptable?

This is my understanding:
On the new Salish class ferries, the Engine Control Room is located five decks above the machinery space (93 steps away via stairs) and is separate from the engine room. Transport Canada has authorized BC Ferries to operate the Salish class vessels with machinery spaces left unattended. BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union (BCFMWU) wants engineers in both the machinery space and the Engine Control Room at the same time. BCFMWU says your interpretation of the Canada Shipping Act creates a loophole where passenger ferries sail without crews sufficient to maintain Certificated Engineering Personnel presence in critical machinery spaces, permitting a mode of operation during high-risk active navigation that is not even allowed for bulk cargo ships.

A week following our exchange in question period, the ferry “Salish Eagle” lost half of its propulsion and partial steering capability June 25 while transiting Active Pass, a busy waterway with a fast-moving current. I’m told this vessel has had similar failures while docking. Transport Canada allows this class of vessel to operate without engineering personnel being physically present in the critical steering and machinery spaces.

Whether or not a qualified crew member was present in the machine space at the time of the incident should be a primary focus of your investigation. If an engineer took over manual steering and operation of the vessel’s machinery during the June 25 propulsion and steering loss, it proves that passenger ferries need an engineer in the machine space at all times.

Surely you will agree, given your mandate letter to “improve marine safety”, that you should reconsider and strengthen staffing requirements for passenger ferries. Will you please investigate the matter of Salish vessels’ sailing with unmanned machinery spaces, and let me know what you find? Vancouver Island and a great deal of BC’s coastal communities are entirely ferry-reliant, and action to strengthen Transport Canada’s regulations would protect passengers, workers, and ecology in BC.


With thanks for your attention,


Sheila Malcolmson
Member of Parliament for Nanaimo—Ladysmith


Hon. Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Government of British Columbia
Mark Collins, President & Chief Executive Officer, BC Ferry Services
Graeme Johnston, President, BC Ferry & Marine Workers Union
Robert Aubin, Member of Parliament for Trois-Rivières, NDP Transportation Critic