Green party Leader Elizabeth May is promising to reverse what she calls a "spiteful decision" by the Conservative government to shutter a Vancouver-area coast guard station, while the Tories insist they have the best record when it comes to protecting the coastlines.
Concern over the 2013 closure of the Kitsilano coast guard base lay mostly dormant until April of this year, when a freighter leaked thousands of litres of bunker fuel into English Bay on Vancouver's front doorstep.
The toxic substance spread quickly, prompting the closure of beaches around the region and the dispatch of animal rescue crews.
The Canadian Coast Guard was harshly criticized for bungled communications and a delayed response to the incident, which sparked a public outcry over the absence of a closer spill-response centre.
May said the Tories' cost-cutting choice to close the station failed to save money, in part because of how much the government is spending to hold the docks.
"The docks that were there are being stored at Steveston (in Richmond, B.C.) at a cost that's almost the same as running the station," May told reporters in an urban park along the Burrard Inlet shoreline on Tuesday.
"And the land on which the coast guard stations exist is bound in perpetuity for one reason only: search and rescue."
The Tories quickly found themselves in hot water over the deeply unpopular closure and just this week unveiled new marine-safety measures in an apparent bid to appease critics in the lead up to election day.
On Monday, Industry Minister James Moore — who is not running for re-election — and former Conservative minister Stockwell Day were in North Vancouver to make the announcement.
A news release said a re-elected Conservative government would expand co-operation between the navy and the Canadian Coast Guard. It would also establish a new coast guard environmental response office and station a pollution-response vessel in Vancouver's harbour.
The release went on to say that the Tories, if re-elected, would invest $45 million over four years to expand the facilities at HMCS Discovery, located beside Vancouver's Stanley Park, to turn it into a "major joint maritime response centre." This would increase its capacity to respond to marine pollution incidents in the area.
Despite the Conservatives' assurances that investment had more than made up for closure of the Kitsilano base, City of Vancouver Green party councillor Adriane Carr said British Columbia has never been as poorly prepared for oil spills as it is now. This poses an unacceptable risk to Vancouver's economy, she said.
"That small spill was a big wake-up call," said Carr, referring to the bunker fuel leak off English Bay in the spring.
Tourism is also at stake, she added, with the city having just experienced a record-breaking season with more than three million visitors in the first five months of 2015.
"Let me tell you, one big spill out here and that tourism economy will tank."
Both the NDP and the Liberals have promised to reopen the Vancouver-area coast guard base if either forms government after Oct. 19.