VANCOUVER - Dozens of demonstrators, elected officials and union members rallied outside the Kitsilano Coast Guard base on Saturday, urging the federal government once again to reverse its decision to shut down the base.
Federal, provincial and local politicians reiterated their support on Saturday for the Kitsilano station, stressing that without it, mariners' lives would be in jeopardy.
Among the crowd were B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix, New Democrat MP Fin Donnelly, Liberal MP Joyce Murray, and local politicians such as Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang. Many urged Ottawa to acknowledge that it has made a mistake by deciding to shut down the base.
"If the prime minister changes his mind – Prime Minister Harper, whoever they send out – I will be the first within five minutes to publicly praise him for doing it," Dix told the crowd.
The Vancouver base is the busiest coast guard base in Canada and responds to more than 350 calls a year. It has responded to 226 calls so far this year, said Dave Clark, a spokesman for the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, which represents Coast Guard members.
Local fisherman Mark Shearer says the Kitsilano base's proximity to Vancouver-area waters makes all the difference when it comes to helping those who are in trouble.
"I see people who can't paddle, it's not just power boats that get into trouble," he said.
"I've seen them wash up on shore and they don't know how to get in and around the buoys because it's very shallow right here...I just can't imagine without having this Coast Guard (base) here, I think it's terrible."
The planned closure of the Kitsilano lifeboat station, as well as three other B.C. Coast Guard communications centres, was announced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in May as a result of budget cuts.
The decision has since sparked considerable outcry from recreational boaters.
But Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said a $100,000-funding boost to the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, a new inshore rescue boat station, and a new hovercraft stationed at Sea Island in Richmond, will be enough to keep mariners safe.
"This adjustment to operational capacity simply reflects a better use of search and rescue resources consistent with all major ports in Canada," said Ashfield in a statement.
But critics argue the base at Sea Island is too far away, and that it would take at least 30 minutes for rescuers to reach those in distress around the Vancouver harbour. The Kitsilano Coast Guard would take only five to 10 minutes, they said.
The Kitsilano station is expected to be shut down next spring.
Note to readers: This is a corrected version. A previous version stated that the Kitsilano Coast Guard base has responded to 226 distress calls so far this year, but not all the calls were distress