Speech on Marine Safety & Kits Coast Guard (C-3)
October 21st, 2013 - 6:00pm
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off my remarks by congratulating the minister on her new post. I should also mention I will be sharing my time with the member for Western Arctic.
The minister talked about developing a world-class tanker safety regime for marine transport. She talked about job creation. She also mentioned that she would reach out to groups on the west coast that were concerned about marine safety. I would like to touch on those three things in my remarks and perhaps point out a few other measures she should take into consideration when thinking about the bill.
First, if the minister is serious about developing a world-class tanker traffic and marine safety system she should think about reversing the cut that was made to the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, which was shut down, as well as the proposed marine communications and traffic services centres, the MCTS. I am speaking specifically with respect to British Columbia, after a huge public outcry on the west coast regarding the shut down of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and the planned cuts to these safety centres.
I want to specifically talk about the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. This Coast Guard station has been recognized as playing a significant role in marine safety. In the last two decades in Vancouver, one of the busiest ports in the country, it has played a critical role in saving lives. It is estimated that the closure of the station will now double response times. As members know, in emergency situations time means safety. It means saving lives. Therefore, when we are talking about the doubling of response times because of the closure of the station, I really have to question if the minister is serious about developing a world-class marine safety system.
The Conservative government's short-sighted cuts to the Kitsilano Coast Guard station will put British Columbians at greater risk. The Kitsilano station is one of the busiest stations in the country. This cut will unnecessarily increase risk to British Columbians. The Coast Guard is essential for marine safety on B.C.'s coast and the action by the Conservatives who shut down not only the Kitsilano Coast Guard station but the marine communication and transport safety centres across B.C., and that is very alarming.
We have heard a lot from many groups that have spoken out about this cut and the risk to this. However, it does not seem that the government is listening. Therefore, I am asking the new minister if she will actually listen.
This was one of the busiest stations in the country. Over 300 distress calls went into this station a year. It is no longer there.
I will read what the Vancouver fire chief said about this closure. There were some actions by the government to fill in the blanks of what was left by the Kits Coast Guard station.
The temporary seasonal services announced for the harbour are no comparison to the professionally trained and equipped officers of the Coast Guard. This closure has put the safety of our harbour and waterways at risk.
This is alarming coming from the Vancouver fire chief when talking about the closure of this station.
The third point I raised was outreach. The minister said that she was willing to talk to and reach out to groups on the west coast. I will come back to that and ask specifically for her to talk to certain groups.
Let me first turn to tanker traffic off Canada's west coast. This is a critical issue in British Columbia as it is in Canada. Specifically looking at the north coast of Canada, British Columbia, I have a private member's bill that looks at banning tanker traffic off B.C.'s north coast.
There is a reason for that and there is a reason why other members have called for a ban on tanker traffic off the west coast. These are treacherous waters, with huge waves, the wind and the unpredictability of the weather systems that roll in. It is also an amazing marine ecosystem. These are reasons why we have to be extremely careful as to how much we want to open up that coast for marine traffic.
It is very important that we look at the safety of the men and women who are operating these large tankers, or vessels or fishing vessels that traverse our seas. I point specifically to the Queen of the North. That is a perfect example of why we need to have increased safety and our standards as high as possible so we can ensure the officers who traverse our seas in large ships are safe. The Queen of the North, which sank of B.C.'s north coast, is a prime example of just how treacherous these waters can be and just how important it is to have high safety standards.
I also mention the ocean ecosystem specifically in this area. I think many Canadians and people around the world know of the Exxon Valdez spill. That caused irreparable harm to the marine ecosystem on the north coast. The impact was felt for years. In fact, some say there are still impacts from that spill today. It just takes one spill or one accident to make a difference in the lives of men and women, of the officers, whether it is a fishing vessel, a large ship or even some of the recreational vessels used by men, women and families using these waters. We need to have the best safety and the best emergency response that we possibly can when it comes to dealing with the ecosystem in the north or the treacherous waters caused by weather in that area.
Canada is definitely not prepared for a major oil spill, especially of bitumen, which is what is being proposed by the government across northeastern British Columbia with the pipeline project by Enbridge, which would put an 1,100 kilometre twin pipeline to traverse bitumen, a very heavy tar-like substance. If that is filled into a tanker and there is a spill off the north coast, I cannot imagine what kind of damage that would do to our marine ecosystem. I also point out that we are not prepared to respond to a spill of that nature. This is a heavy substance. It is not something with which we are familiar in terms of response and cleanup, and B.C. is woefully unprepared for a major oil spill.
We know this because we have not even done a risk analysis of the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station to the MCTS stations off the west coast and the impact that will have on marine safety. I submitted an access to information request and this is the response I received in a letter dated May 10, 2013, “The Canadian Coast Guard has advised that there is no stand-alone risk analysis document”. This is unacceptable. We need to have a stand-alone risk analysis that can be vetted and shared with all parliamentarians and interest groups concerned about marine safety. It is unacceptable that we do not have a risk analysis document.
The minister mentioned she would reach out to the groups on the west coast concerned about marine safety. I hope she consults with the Province of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver police and fire chiefs, the Jericho Sailing Centre, and so many others that are concerned about marine safety. In fact, if she does consult with them, she will find that they unanimously want the Kitsilano Coast Guard centre open, that they want the MCTS stations reopened, and that they want the reverses that the government has made in terms of the cuts to fisheries and oceans and the Coast Guard changed. They want to see an increase in resources and jobs, not the reverse.
I challenge the minister. If she is serious about a world class marine transportation safety system, she should start with reopening the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.