Are B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell’s and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon’s views on privatization and the economy too extreme for the U.S. Republican Party?

Their decision to build $500 million in new ferries in Europe illustrates just how far out of the mainstream the B.C. Liberals are. Most governments around the world, regardless of political stripe, think it is a good thing to use government agencies to promote local business and create jobs.

Consider the case of our neighbours to the south in Washington state.

The Washington State Ferry system is also 100 per cent publicly owned. Like our own B.C. Ferries, it is also embarking on a major capital program to upgrade and replace aging vessels and provide new services to ferry users.

In the next 10 years, Washington State Ferries will build four new 1,200-passenger/130-car ferries. The work is valued at around $550 million Canadian, and as with the B.C. Ferries capital plan will create thousands of new jobs.

And every new ferry, by law, will be built in Washington state.

As in British Columbia, Washington State Ferries historically have been built by local contractors as a matter of policy. Four years ago, the state undertook a review and audit of its capital construction program. It overhauled the procurement process for new ferries and set up a new “design-build” policy that brought WSF and shipbuilders together in both the design and construction of new boats.

On April 20, 2001, the Washington state legislature passed a bill that contained a new section that contains the requirement that all new ferries “be constructed within the boundaries of the state of Washington.” The next subsection contains the further requirement “that all warranty work on the vessel must be performed within the boundaries of the State of Washington.”

In addition, the new construction process clearly stated that new contracts should be awarded “to bidders with the most advantageous proposal, not necessarily the low bidder.”

Was this provision controversial? Was there a divisive debate in the state legislature? Were there right-wing pro-privatization Republicans who opposed it as restrictive on free enterprise? No, the Bill passed by a vote of 87-0 in the state’s House of Representatives and 44-0 in the state’s Senate.

Not a single Washington legislator supported the position that is being defended by the B.C. Liberals. Simply put, Washington politicians understand that building ferries locally is good for their state.

It is not just the Washington state government that feels this way. In the 1990s, the U.S. Congress reaffirmed the provision of the Jones Act that restrict “point-to-point waterborne commerce to vessels owned, built, flagged and manned in the U.S.” Who were the socialist radicals defending this legislation?

How about Trent Lott, former Republican majority leader in the Senate (“We must protect the Jones Act”)? Or president Bill Clinton? (“Thanks to the Jones Act, the United States has a robust domestic shipping industry that directly supports 80,000 jobs and generates about 44,000 jobs in related industries.”)

Lott and Clinton — too left-wing on the economy to join the B.C. Liberal cabinet!

The problem with the B.C. Liberals is that they have lost their bearings. They are so fixated on ideology, that they have forgotten that voters elected them as their representatives and they have lost sight of the value of using Crown corporations as a means to create good, family-supporting jobs.

This is not an NDP vision or a Liberal vision — this vision has inspired government of all political stripes throughout our history. Our province and country would not and could not have developed as it has, without crown corporations such as B.C. Hydro, B.C. Rail and B.C. Ferries.

The B.C. Liberals and their allies respond with sarcasm. For example, picking up an argument from Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon, Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Sara MacIntyre wrote in the Times Colonist last week, “And, if our ships are only to be built in B.C., then why not our cars, our computers, our MRIs?”

Every ferry in our fleet has been built or re-fitted in B.C. When you compare our ferry fleet to that of Washington state over the past 25 years, B.C.-built ferries have simply performed better. And if you have taken ferries in both jurisdictions, as I have, you will know that B.C. Ferries are vastly more comfortable and better as a travel experience.

There is a difference between ferries, cars and computers in B.C. We build ferries here and history shows that we do it well. And our shipbuilding industry will continue to employ people in our province if B.C. Ferries is prepared to allow them to do the work.

And it is not just on Crown corporations that the premier is out of touch. When Western Star Trucks, the province’s biggest manufacturer, left Kelowna for Oregon, our government said and did nothing to keep it here.

Can you imagine leaders in any other jurisdiction in North America allowing their No. 1 manufacturing employer to leave without a fight? Unlike our premier, they understand who they represent.

Campbell and his colleagues have lost sight of the value of work and productivity in the economy. We can’t all be stockbrokers. We can’t all be real estate agents.

And we need our provincial government to represent the voters of the province, and not export valued work, defame the quality of our industry and sit idly by while real wages decline and unemployment rises.