Open Letter to Minister: Don't Shut Down the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station

June 7, 2012

Hon. Keith Ashfield Minister of Fisheries and Oceans House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Minister:

The federal government is responsible for keeping Canadians safe on our coasts. The recent decision to close down the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station is an abdication of this responsibility and poses significant risk to British Columbians.

Last week, Canada’s New Democrats held a packed town hall meeting about the pending closure at the Jericho Sailing Centre to hear from concerned citizens. I, along with NDP Defense critic, Jack Harris, heard a variety of perspectives, but all were in agreement that the Conservative government is neglecting their mandate to protect British Columbians. I agree this reckless cut will put people at risk and endanger lives.

We promised to bring their message to Ottawa.

I have asked you numerous times in Parliament and not received a satisfactory response. As the Official Opposition, we have used our final Opposition Day Motion of this session to call on your government to recognize that saving lives is the top priority of the Canadian Coast Guard and to reverse the decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard and other stations across the country.

I was very disappointed that every member of the Conservative Party voted against this motion.

The Kitsilano Coast Guard Station is one of the most active in the country, servicing approximately 300 distress calls per year in Canada’s largest port. Most of these calls deal with emergency situations, such as person in water, medical responses, suicide attempts and fires.

The closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station will increase response times, as the next nearest stationed rescue boat would then have to travel seventeen nautical miles from Sea Island to Vancouver. This cost-cutting measure is unacceptable.

At the town hall meeting, one of our panelists, Mike Kelly, a retired Captain and 37 year veteran of the Canadian Coast Guard stated: "The coast guard is disaster driven. Bases don't fall out of the sky because they have got too much money. They only fall out of the sky because somebody paid for it in blood, and it is always blood on the deck before anything gets done. We must not pay that price again." The protection of the public must be a top priority for any government. We heard from many people at the town hall meeting who were adamant that the Conservative government must not balance the budget at the expense of marine safety.

Those in attendance included recreational boaters, kayakers, yacht owners and club members, representatives from labour that act on behalf of coast guard workers, retired coast guard members, Parks Board Commissioners, environmentalists and residents of Vancouver.

They are upset that your government will be putting people in danger and with your failure to consult stakeholders about the Kitsilano station closure. After assurances from BC MP James Moore that a broad consultation had taken place, British Columbians soon discovered that your department had only consulted with the Department of National Defense.

This lack of consultation does not instill a sense of confidence that this short-sighted decision is in the best interest of British Columbians. And the choruses of disapproval from people who are active in marine safety who have the local knowledge of the area and know the level of service required, is growing.

It was mentioned that with the increase in float plane traffic and your governments plan to increase oil tanker traffic within the inlet, the government should be strengthening coast guard services, not cutting them.

The message coming from the town hall meeting was clear:

The closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station creates an unacceptable risk for Canadians.

I urge you to reconsider your decision.

Sincerely,

Fin Donnelly Member of Parliament New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody Deputy NDP Fisheries and Oceans Critic (West Coast)