Provincial and local politicians vowed to continue the battle against the closing of Canada’s busiest Coast Guard station the day after the federal government turned off the lights and locked the doors.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced early Tuesday afternoon that it had closed the Canadian Coast Guard Station in Vancouver, taking labour leaders, politicians and emergency personnel by surprise, The news was delivered nine months after the federal government announced the station would be closed because of budget cuts in the spring of 2013.
Premier Christy Clark said on Wednesday her government wasn’t given any advance warning about the closing, and she will do everything in her power to reopen the facility that responded to about 350 emergency calls a year.
“If they think the fight’s over, it ain’t over,” said Ms. Clark, adding the decision was wrong and a federal budget mistake that needed correction.
In fact, B.C.’s Attorney-General Shirley Bond has already written a strongly worded letter to her federal counterpart, said Ms. Clark, adding that she planned to contact officials in Ottawa to express her displeasure.
Ms. Clark said the station played an important role in responding to problems experienced by BC Ferries, which she called the “largest ferry system in the world,” and answered emergency calls in the country’s busiest port and one of its busiest marine playgrounds.
“There are some things you can’t stop doing, and this is one of them,” said Ms. Clark.
With the station closed, the nearest coast guard base to Vancouver’s waterfront is at Sea Island, in Richmond, B.C., which is 31 kilometres, or about 35 minutes away by boat.
A volunteer contingent of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue has agreed to relocate operations to an area on Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet.
The federal government also announced in January that a three-person inshore rescue team would operate on the waterfront, around-the-clock and in peak boating season from the May long weekend to Labour Day in September.
The decision to close the facility came after two recent search-and-rescue exercises, the latest of which happened Monday, and was made by Gary Sidock, acting assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard’s western region.
A Coast Guard hovercraft, as well as vessels from Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, Port Metro Vancouver, and police and fire departments participated in the exercise.
Gary Sidock, acting assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard’s western region, said the timing was not politically motivated and was made after he was confident the new search-and-rescue plan for Vancouver’s harbour was operational.
But Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney said he participated in Monday’s exercise, and there was no mention of any base closing.
“To suggest to our citizens that these exercises or any real emergency no longer requires a rapid response by the coast guard is simply incorrect,” he said.
McKeaMr. rney also criticized the government’s seasonal summer services, saying they are no comparison “to the professionally trained and equipped officers of the Coast Guard.”
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he was also shocked and disappointed the station was abruptly closed. He said he believes the closing will put lives at risk and the city will have to figure out a backup plan.
The lack of consultation with B.C. politicians over the issue isn’t new.
In May 2012, Coast Guard spokeswoman Jody Thomas acknowledged the agency consulted only the Department of National Defence – and not any of the other volunteer or city agencies – before announcing the closing of the station.
According to figures previously released by the coast guard, the Vancouver station responded to 271 calls in 2011, 36 of them marine distress calls and 40 humanitarian distress, and its annual cost was $900,000.