Garbage truck technology trumps Kits Coast Guard Base
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:37PM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2013 9:22PM PST
Just days before the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station was closed to save money, the federal Conservative government announced it would spend twice the station’s annual budget on grants to create a more efficient garbage truck.
The garbage truck grant was part of an apparent spending spree by government MPs, who announced a range of new funding across Canada that, were it redirected, could keep the base open for decades.
Critics, including B.C. Premier Christy Clark, have charged that closing the base could be fatal for mariners who may need help.
“There are lives in the balance and we are going to fight to keep that open. If they think the fight is over, it ain’t over,” Clark said Wednesday afternoon.
Ottawa has estimated that closing the base will save some $900,000 a year, but International Trade Minister Ed Fast denied that the Conservatives' other expenditures, including $5 million allotted for a new Office of Religions Freedom, represent a lack of proper priorities.
“I don’t think you want to compare apples and oranges, and I don’t want to accept the assumption that safety on the West Coast is compromised,” said Fast.
The government is replacing the Kitsilano station with a hovercraft operating from a Richmond base. The government says there will be no impact on the safety of English Bay, a heavily used recreational area, or the Port of Vancouver.
Clark told reporters that no one in the provincial government had been informed the base would close on Tuesday, the same day the provincial budget was announced. The Kits station was expected to close in the spring.
“They gave us absolutely no advance warning that was going to happen yesterday, and that was wrong,” she said.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city was also caught off guard.
“It’s a huge, huge disappointment. It came as a big surprise for us,” he said.
Critics say the estimated savings don’t seem substantial when compared to a number of recent funding announcements made by Ottawa.
On Feb 15, the Canadian government gave $1.8 million to Montreal-based company Effenco Development to develop “Engine-Off” technology that could allow garbage trucks to operate hydraulic pumps without running the engine.
Some $3 million was given to fund a new art exhibit in Montreal, more than three times the base’s annual funding.
About $10 million was announced to renovate a recreation centre in Medicine Hat, Alberta, more than 10 times the base’s annual funding.
Annual funding of $5 million a year was announced to fund the Office of Religious Freedom, which would keep the Kits station running for at least five years. That office is established to monitor the safety of religious minorities around the world.
Yesterday alone, one estimate was that 33 cheques had been handed out by Conservative MPs for a total of $15 million – enough to keep the base open for almost two decades.
Fast, who was speaking after a media availability on a different subject, said that he believed the Office of Religious Freedom was an important policy objective.
He believed there would be no impact on safety and that the coastline would be well-protected by the hovercraft.
“I can assure you we will continue to focus on the capacity required to keep Canadians safe,” Fast said.
He referred questions about the timing of the Kits base shutdown to MP James Moore, who did not return calls.