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Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, centre, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria on Sept. 9, 2020.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Premier John Horgan says he has already begun pressing the federal government to reverse a decision requiring passengers on major BC Ferries routes to leave their vehicles on enclosed decks.

The company announced Wednesday that Transport Canada had rescinded the temporary flexibility granted to ferry operators that allowed passengers to remain in their cars to allow them to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in the throes of moving resources into public transit whether it be BC Transit, TransLink and BC Ferries, just so we can stabilize our public transit systems,” Mr. Horgan said.

“This is an unwelcome intrusion by the federal government at this time and we’re going to pursue this aggressively.”

Mr. Horgan described the rule as “heavy-handed” and said he has raised the issue with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Transport Canada granted the flexibility in the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold to allow for increased physical distancing.

BC Ferries said Wednesday that beginning Sept. 30, customers must leave enclosed vehicle decks aboard most large vessels.

The ferry company has implemented a number of additional health and safety measures since the pandemic began including cleaning, sanitizing and mandatory mask use, it said.

The company will also reopen certain areas of the vessels, such as the Pacific Buffet on “spirit class” vessels for seating only, as a way to provide passengers with more space.

The procedure for clearing the main vehicle deck will be reapplied on three Metro Vancouver to Vancouver Island routes, as well as sailings between Comox and Powell River, and Tsawwassen and the southern Gulf Islands.

However, BC Ferries said Transport Canada granted its approval to allow passengers to remain in their vehicles on the main car deck between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale.

“The vessels on the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route operate in ‘sheltered’ waters as defined by Transport Canada,” BC Ferries says in a service notice.

“BC Ferries received approval from Transport Canada to operate the ships on that route with the stern doors open, which makes the deck an ‘open’ vehicle deck.”

The company also added a new steel barrier gate across the opening for safety and warns that if the stern doors need to be closed for any reason, customers will be asked to leave their vehicles.

Mr. Horgan said the marine highway is an integral part of the province’s transportation network and BC Ferries is an essential service for many British Columbians.

“We believe that we can safely transport people provided that we have support, co-operation from Ottawa. This is not something we sought, this is something that’s being opposed.”

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