POLITICS

Tory MP blames bureaucrats, calls for reflection, to avoid coast guard cuts

06/15/2012 10:54 EDT | Updated 08/15/2012 05:12 EDT
NANAIMO, B.C. - A Conservative member of parliament from B.C. says more thought is needed before one coast guard base and three communications centres are axed on the West Coast.

Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney admits he's concerned by his government's plans for the closures, including a coast guard station near Vancouver harbour.

"I've made some strong representations on trying to get a better take on this," Lunney said in an interview.

"I think some of the decisions might have come from bureaucrats in Ottawa and we need a little more reflection on the best way to move forward with the coast guard concerns."

The federal government announced last month that 10 of 22 marine communication centres across Canada — including ones in Vancouver and Comox and Tofino on Vancouver Island — would be closed.

The centres provide marine communications and regulate marine traffic, handling everything from distress calls to the management of tankers and cruise ships.

The search and rescue station at Kitsilano in Vancouver is also to be closed.

"We looked at our marine communications and traffic centres. We found out that we had quite a few across the country and yet they were not as effective as they should be because one would be situated at Centre A or Centre B and at times they could not even communicate with each other," Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to the Fisheries minister, said in a news release.

He said the decision was made to keep the same number of radar towers and radio installations "which really do the work on behalf of these centres."

However, mayors in the communities affected were angered because none of them were consulted beforehand, despite the government's contention that consultation had taken place.

The Coast Guard acknowledged later the decisions were made after speaking only with the Department of National Defence.

Kamp said a mix of other resources will take over the work of the Kitsilano search and rescue station, though there had been no consultation with any of those partners either and a spokesman for the volunteer coast guard auxiliary has said its members can't take the place of paid staff.

The B.C. government has sent a letter of complaint to Ottawa to protest the cost cutting measures.

Lunney said Friday communications workers in the Ucluelet centre are best able to monitor vessels in B.C.'s often-challenging coastal waters. He predicted the 25 jobs at the centre will be missed if they disappear as planned.

"Getting it 100 per cent right is going to be problematic so I think, you know, we're a little bit off 100-per-cent off accuracy in the targets there, but we're going to have to make adjustments as we move forward," said the MP, who has served his riding since 2000.

"They say you can run it out of two centres and that may be true. But I think having our front-line guys out in Ucluelet creates a real problem. Pulling 25 jobs out of a small community and they're best positioned to monitor vessels coming and going on the coast."

Earlier this week, a 14-metre pleasure craft was swept against a neighbouring 21-metre sailboat in strong gusts off Kitsilano Beach.

Quick response from the coast guard vessel at the Kitsilano station was credited for the speedy and successful end to the emergency. One person was aboard the smaller boat, but managed to scramble to safety as it took on water. The vessel was eventually towed to a nearby marina.

(CKWV)