As the May target date looms for the federal government’s planned closure of Kitsilano Coast Guard Station, opponents among first-responder organizations and at all levels of government are stepping up their campaign to reverse the controversial decision.
Among recent developments:
At the Vancouver Boat Show, hard-working volunteers from the Jericho Sailing Centre Association, a leader in the campaign to save the station, collected more than 3,000 signed letters to Prime Minster Stephen Harper. The letter sets out key arguments against the closure, accuses local Conservative MPs of “abandoning ship” on the issue, and concludes: “I will not vote for a party that closes the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.” The letters were sent to the PM at no cost using MPs’ free letter-mail privileges.
“People are angry. This crowd (at the show) is out on the water and they understand that there are no ambulance or emergency services out there. There are a lot of Conservative supporters in the boating crowd and they’re frustrated,” said JSCA general manager Mike Cotter.
On a February 8 visit to Vancouver, the prime minister defended the closure, saying the government was re-allocating money toward services that will enhance public safety: “We’ve made investments here and in other parts of the country…to try and move things away from offices and back offices and to actually having resources on the ground and in the water.”
But his remarks puzzled base supporters, who point out the closure will result in lay-off or transfer for the base’s 12 line search-and-rescue personnel, not coast guard managers. And the only new vessel to be added to the local SAR fleet will be a hovercraft based at Richmond’s Sea Island – but critics say it will be at least 30 minutes away from Vancouver Harbour and may be less effective in rescue situations better served by the cutter now based at Kits, especially in the strong winds and big seas that prevail on the coast in fall and winter.
The issue has created rare unanimity among BC politicians at the municipal and provincial levels, especially with a provincial election looming this spring. Premier Christy Clark recorded a YouTube video in which she said her Liberal government is intent on reversing the closure plan. “For the safety of British Columbians, the federal government must find the funding to keep the Kits Coast guard station open and keep Vancouver families safe,” said Clark, whose Vancouver-Point Grey riding includes Kits Base.
A January rally at Jericho Sailing Centre drew about 250 people, including representatives of all provincial political parties as well as opposition MPs from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver city councillors, all speaking against the base closure.
But the event’s most compelling speaker was Mandip Sandhu, who described how his brother Paul died in 2001 when his car plunged into the Fraser River and coast guard rescuers on the scene were unable to enter the water because the agency’s dive program had been cancelled 72 hours earlier. As a result of the Sandhu family’s campaign – and the deaths of five family members in the capsize of a fishboat, when rescuers also couldn’t enter the water – coast guard dive teams were eventually reinstated.
“We can’t let this happen. ‘I told you so’ will be a heavy burden for all of us to bear,” said an emotional Sandhu.
Cotter said the campaign to save the base will step up as the closure approaches, targeting Prime Minister Harper directly because Conservative MPs have failed to respond on the issue. “The rally was really a starting point. We’re going to ramp up the pressure and increase the noise.”
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