B.C. Premier Christy Clark is demanding Ottawa reverse course on its plans to close the Canadian Coast Guard station in Kitsilano – a base for rescue efforts in one of the province’s busiest pleasure-boat waterways.
Ms. Clark, who has been careful to seek harmonious relations with the federal Conservative government as she tries to maintain the coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives that comprise the B.C. Liberals, struck a tougher tone Monday.
The Premier said her Justice Minister has written Ottawa to express disappointment over the closing and seek the cancellation of the measure. She said cutting costs is no excuse for measures that may impact safety.
“I understand budget pressure. We’ve got a lot here in British Columbia and we are trying to balance our budget just like they are federally, but I think you want to make sure, when you’re balancing your budget, you minimize the impact on regions and you try and find as many savings as you can in central government,” she told reporters during an unrelated news conference.
“And I think a lot of us who use the ocean – and I am one of them – want to know no lives will be imperilled as a result of this budget balancing exercise. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Ms. Clark sidestepped calls from B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix for an all-party resolution in the legislature opposed to the closing, as well as a joint trip to Ottawa to lobby against the plan.
“We are way ahead of him on that issue,” she said when asked about Mr. Dix’s proposals.
The federal Tories have said the station will be closed in October, but that a base at Sea Island in Richmond, about 17 nautical miles away, will provide replacement services. Responses will take about 30 minutes, they say.
Every year, the Kitsilano base, which has 12 crew, deals with about 200 to 300 calls for service.
In the letter to federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield dated May 28, B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond says the closing of the Kitsilano station, as well as communications stations in Vancouver, Comox and Tofino, are “unwelcome news” to B.C. communities.
“I recognize that the Coast Guard facility closures are only one part of broader federal budget reductions, some of which I recently discussed with Minister [Vic]Toews. However, protecting public safety must be a guiding principle for all such budget exercises,” she wrote. “I urge you to reconsider the decision.” The minister wrote that the Coast Guard must be “adequately supported” in its “unwavering dedication to public safety.”
Ms. Bond says her staff is trying to arrange talks with Mr. Ashfield on the issue.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has already slammed the plan to close the station, noting that Ottawa did not consult on the issue.
Mr. Dix said Monday that the letter was a sign of progress in B.C.’s lobbying efforts to change Ottawa’s view on the fate of the base. “What I would like to see is the decision reversed and anything that makes that likely is good news,” he said in an interview. He said it was clear that the province could and should do more on the issue.
Mr. Dix said he had no problem with Ms. Clark not responding specifically to his proposed measures. “This isn’t a competition here,” he said. “This is trying to bring people together to get a common result.”
In an e-mail, a spokesperson for Mr. Ashfield said the decisions to change certain Coast Guard operations “were taken with the safety of mariners at their core.”
The government, the spokesman added, “consults widely on budget decisions with experts on a variety of topics; Coast Guard officials discussed these changes with search and rescue partners in the federal government where the expertise for these activities lies. There is no expectation that these changes will put increased pressure on provincial resources.”