Are Newfoundlanders’ lives more important than British Columbians’? That’s the question facing Ottawa after it announced plans to build a new Coast Guard Base back east just days after quietly closing another in Vancouver.

The base will replace an existing facility in Burin, Nfld. at a cost of $6.6-million, enough to fund the Kitsilano Coast Guard base closed Tuesday for another nine years.

Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, who has long argued the Kitsilano closure will cost lives, said he was flabbergasted to hear about fresh funding on the East Coast.

“When I first found out I thought it was a joke,” Jang said. “What it really says to us is that there is indeed money in the system for Coast Guard services.”

Ottawa estimates it will save $700,000 a year by shutting down the base.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, another critic of the Conservative government’s decision to remove resources from the province, suggested the move is all about geography.

“The problem is, I think, frankly, that British Columbia is such a long way from Ottawa. Maybe they don’t know that we have the busiest port in the country and it’s getting busier all the time,” Clark said.

The Premier is inviting federal MPs to tour the B.C. coast to see firsthand how important the Coast Guard base is.

But Federal Heritage Minister James Moore argued that even with the loss of the Kitsilano base, B.C. and Vancouver lead the country in marine safety resources.

“Vancouver has more Coast Guard and coastal safety resources than any city in Canada,” Moore said.

With the base gone, the government has promised to install a rescue boat station in Vancouver from May to September. It will be manned by two summer students and one rescue professional.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer search and rescue station in Indian Arm is also being moved to the Second Narrows Bridge – a shifting of resources critics have called a “Shell game” that merely deprives other areas of proper coverage.

Moore also said the decision to abruptly close the Kitilano base Tuesday, which caught all levels of B.C. government by surprise, was the Coast Guard’s, not his.

“I can appreciate that the public may think it doesn’t look that great, and that certainly has been something that I’ve heard, but the Coast Guard doesn’t ask me for advice on their communications strategies.”

He also defended a recent spending spree by the federal government that some have criticized as an apparent lack of priorities.

On Feb. 15, the Conservatives gave $1.8 million to Montreal-based Effenco Development to create a more efficient garbage truck. Some $3 million was given to fund a new art exhibit in Montreal, $10 million was announced to renovate a recreation centre in Medicine Hat, and $5 million was set aside for the Office of Religious Freedom.

Moore said weighing the spending choices against the decision to close the Kitsilano base was comparing apples to oranges.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Maria Weisgarber