Student-manned rescue boat can’t replace Coast Guard base: union
CTV British Columbia
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013 9:09AM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 9, 2013 10:58PM PST
The federal government’s plan to install a student-manned rescue boat in Vancouver from May to September is a poor substitute for the soon-to-be-closed Kitsilano Coast Guard base, critics warn.
On Wednesday, after months of controversy surrounding the decision to close the base, Parliamentary Secretary Randy Kamp announced a new rescue station will be added to the naval base in the waters off Stanley Park.
The station will house a single inflatable rescue boat, and be staffed by one rescue professional and two summer students.
“The safety of mariners is the top priority of the Canadian Coast Guard,” Kamp told reporters.
But the new rescue station will only run during the peak boating season, meaning that boaters will have to rely on the Richmond Coast Guard base or auxiliary volunteers to rescue them during the fall and winter.
To help quell those concerns, the government has also chosen to move the Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer search and rescue station in Indian Arm to the Second Narrows Bridge.
But critics, including the Canadian Transportation Employees’ Union that represents Coast Guard workers, describe the government’s plan as a “shell game” of resource relocation that merely deprives other areas of proper coverage.
Union regional vice-president Dave Clark said it also fails to adequately replace the Kitsilano Coast Guard base the federal government seems as intent as ever in closing.
“They seem to forget in Ottawa that we don’t ice over,” said Clark. “This water is clear and used at all times. People work out here and people do pleasure [boating] in the winter and in the summer.”
The Kitsilano base responds to 350 calls per year, according to the union, and even the combined resources of the new rescue station, Richmond base and auxiliary volunteers won’t be able to fill the gap it’s leaving behind.
“There’s a reason this base has been here for 70 years,” Clark said. “These bases were built by people’s blood. Someone died for these bases to be here.”
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, an outspoken critic of the Kitsilano base closure, characterized the government’s decision as a cost-cutting measure that will put lives at risk.
Councillor Kerry Jang said the city was not informed of Ottawa’s plans for the new rescue station, and councillors were not even invited to Wednesday’s announcement. “I kind of snuck in with Chinese media,” Jang said.
The Coast Guard has said the closure of the Kitsilano base will save the government $700,000 per year, but Clark said the lives it saves are more important.
The union plans to fight the government’s decision with a rally on Jan. 19.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Mi-Jung Lee