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Clark links acceptance of oil pipelines to Coast Guard base’s future

NDP MP Fin Donnelly speaks at a a rally at the Kitsilano Coast Guard station after it was closed permanently on Tuesday. in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday February 19, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ottawa would have a better chance persuading British Columbians to accept oil pipelines if it reversed its decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, Premier Christy Clark says.

Ms. Clark tied the two issues together Wednesday during debate over the successful rescue of two men aboard a fishing boat that sank in Vancouver waters. The Coast Guard said the rescue showed it could protect the public despite the controversial closing of the base last month, but critics said questions remain.

In Victoria, Ms. Clark said her government continues to fight Ottawa to reverse its decision to close the base.

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"It is not dead. I am determined to persuade the federal government to reopen that Coast Guard base," Ms. Clark told reporters. "They have a strong interest in that, because at the same time they are trying to convince British Columbians that we should be moving Alberta's heavy oil, they are saying they want to cut our Coast Guard."

The Premier noted that one of B.C.'s five conditions for moving "Alberta's heavy oil" is the "world's best" spill response. "That means not a smaller Coast Guard, but a bigger Coast Guard."

On Wednesday morning, the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria reported a Hovercraft from Coast Guard operations at Sea Island in Richmond, B.C., was on scene in the Georgia Strait off Point Grey within 17 minutes of the sinking of a fishing vessel that left two individuals in the water. The men were taken to shore and then to hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

"At the end of the day, that's not a bad response," Troy Haddock, maritime search and rescue co-ordinator for the centre, said in an interview.

He said the scene of the incident was an equidistant 13 kilometres from both the former base and Sea Island, and that the rescue could not have been more quickly mounted from the now shuttered Kitsilano operation. While there have been various calls since the closing of the base, Mr. Haddock said the sinking was the highest-magnitude case.

But a Vancouver city councillor accused the Coast Guard of minimizing a dangerous situation that has angered the province, city and others. "They're trying to normalize an unsafe situation by downplaying the situation," said Kerry Jang. Only public pressure or an unfortunate death might change Ottawa's resolve, he said.

He said the city is continuing to make the case for the base in all contacts with the federal government – a point echoed by Justice Minister Shirley Bond.

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"In fact, in the last week or so I spoke directly with [federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield] and laid out very clearly British Columbia's concerns," she told Question Period. "It is unacceptable. This is a matter of public safety. And we continue to urge the federal government to change their position."

Plans to close the operation were announced as part of cost-cutting measures in the federal budget last spring. However, the final shutdown was executed as the B.C. government brought down its budget last month – a tactic Ms. Clark said was inappropriate. Ms. Clark has said her government will continue trying to persuade Ottawa to reverse its decision.

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