The federal government has renewed its commitment to close the Coast Guard rescue station in Kitsilano, promising the creation of a new inshore rescue-boat station, but failing to quell the furor over the move that has caused rare unity across the political spectrum in British Columbia.
Parliamentary fisheries secretary Randy Kamp, acting for Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, on Wednesday said a seven-metre rigid-hull inflatable boat will be posted at the Royal Canadian Navy Facility HMCS Discovery – a naval reserve station – on Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver.
The operation will be open from the May long weekend until after Labour Day. Mr. Kamp said its placement in a military facility will allow for joint operations and collaboration. The move was always intended, but the only question was the location.
Mr. Kamp suggested the new operation would please critics who have raised concerns about plans to close the Kitsilano base – one of the busiest in Canada – by summer to save about $700,000 a year. The base handles about 300 calls a year.
Ottawa has defended its cost-cutting move, noting a new hovercraft at the Sea Island Coast Guard station in Richmond will also be ready to move in to help with rescues.
“I think they will appreciate this decision,” Mr. Kamp said when asked about the likely response of the City of Vancouver, which has opposed the move along with B.C.’s Liberal government and the NDP opposition.
The mayor slammed the news conference as a reannouncement of old plans that Vancouver has deemed unacceptable.
“There’s nothing new here,” Gregor Robertson told reporters after the federal news conference. “I don’t think people in Vancouver will be satisfied that this addresses the fundamental safety concerns in our harbour.”
The city and the province were given no advance notice of the news conference. A city councillor from Mr. Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party hitched a ride with the media into the briefing. Kerry Jang later said the city had been “blindsided” by Mr. Kamp’s announcement, which affirmed the end of the 70-year-old rescue operation.
Mr. Robertson agreed. “The city has not had a healthy back and forth with the federal government on this issue since day one. It all keeps coming as surprises,” he said.
The mayor accused Ottawa of pursuing cuts “to save a few dollars” that would leave “lives at risk,” adding: “I’m sure there are other ways they can save those dollars.” Meanwhile, he suggested Ottawa’s move will shift costs to fire and police services.
“There hasn’t been any change in Ottawa’s tone on this despite the B.C. government and all of Metro Vancouver being opposed to closure.”
Mr. Robertson had no specific measures to announce beyond trying to ramp up pressure on government MPs “so they understand this is absolutely unacceptable.”
The B.C. government called the federal announcement “a step in the right direction” in terms of providing resources for rescue operations. However, Attorney-General Shirley Bond said the Liberal government still wants the base protected from budget cuts. “Our government’s view on this issue has been – and remains – consistent: we continue to be concerned about the complete closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base.”
Jody Thomas, the deputy commissioner of operations for the coast guard, said a final date for closing the base will be announced after exercises to test the new system of rescue in the waters around Vancouver.
“We’ll announce the date for the closure when we’re comfortable that it is ready to be closed and the system we need is in place,” she said.
She said, despite regional concerns, no reversal is planned. ”We’ll be proceeding with our plans to close Kitsilano.”
Dave Clark of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, representing the 13 workers remaining at the base, promised his organization would protest against the closing as the final days of the operation become more clear.
“If it comes to a crunch time and they close it, we’ll have a lot more activity. We’re not going to take it lying down.”