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British Columbia Fisheries Minister defends decision to close Kitsilano Coast Guard station

Canada's Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 10, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Despite public and political opposition, federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield says he won't back down on the decision to close the Canadian Coast Guard search-and-rescue station in Kitsilano.

"As far as I am concerned, that station is closing," Mr. Ashield said Monday in an interview from his Ottawa office. "I don't see any latitude there at all."

Mr. Ashfield said he will explain his position further when he comes to Vancouver soon for his first visit since the announcement of the closing, among nationwide cutbacks by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

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"I will be conveying that message, yes, when I go to Vancouver, and I think we have to alleviate people's concerns that, in some way, we're jeopardizing their safety."

The decision to close the Kitsilano facility has been sharply opposed by Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, among others, who say it will compromise safety in the busy waters around central Vancouver.

In response, Mr. Ashfield's department has said Coast Guard vessels from Sea Island, near Vancouver International Airport, can handle calls now managed out of Kitsilano.

"Nobody particularly cares for change, but we are responsible for taxpayers' dollars and people want us to spend it effectively and efficiently," said Mr. Ashfield.

"I understand people get upset. They are emotionally attached to things and sometimes emotion takes over, but we believe this is a common-sense approach that will still provide a safe system for all concerned."

The minister said he was not sure he could persuade Mr. Robertson that the closing is a good idea.

"The fact is they have their views and we have our views, and we have to try and work through those, but I still believe a lot of this is just solely based on misinformation."

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B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said Monday she had a phone conversation with Mr. Ashfield on June 7 to restate B.C.'s concerns about the planned closure.

"I strongly reinforced that while I understand the need to make prudent financial decisions during challenging economic times, it is essential that public safety be the primary consideration," she said in a statement.

"We believe further examination of the impacts is warranted."

She also said she restated the province's concern about the lack of consultation.

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