Local non-governing federal candidates have been quick to express their displeasure at the federal government’s planned closures of Island Coast Guard services, in light of the Vancouver Harbour oil spill.
Green Party, Liberal and NDP candidates alike are questioning the federal government’s planned closures of targeted Marine Communications and Traffic Centres, such as the one in Comox.
“Last week’s oil spill in Vancouver Harbour showed how much is at stake,” said North Island-Powell River NDP candidate Rachel Blaney. “Instead of defending the response we saw in Vancouver, the Conservatives should start listening to British Columbians and restore Coast Guard services.”
“We’re pressing the Harper government to learn from the Vancouver oil spill and reverse its cutbacks to marine safety,” added Courtenay-Alberni NDP candidate Gord Johns.
The NDP has set up an online petition to reverse cuts to coast guard services. The petition can be found at: www.ndp.ca/bc-coast-guard
Meanwhile, Glenn Sollitt, the Green Party of Canada’s candidate in Courtenay-Alberni, said the government is headed in “the wrong direction” in moving to close Coast Guard communications centres in Comox, Tofino-Ucluelet and Vancouver,
“In light of the recent spill in English Bay… reducing Coast Guard resources is the wrong direction,” said Sollitt, whose riding is covered by these stations.
The Coast Guard’s Tofino centre, located in Ucluelet, is set to close April 21; Vancouver will close May 6 and Comox will close in early 2016.
Marine traffic monitoring and communications in Comox and Vancouver will be moved to Victoria. The services in Tofino-Ucluelet will be moved to Prince Rupert.
“These centres are responsible for listening to distress calls and guiding ships,” said Sollitt, a former commercial fisherman on both the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island. “Closing them increases the risk of shipping accidents. It may mean missed distress calls.”
Sollitt noted that the closing of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station in 2013 was cited in the delay in responding to last week’s spill of bunker-C oil in English Bay.
“We just had an incident in which it took six hours to respond to an oil spill right off the beaches in downtown Vancouver,” Sollitt said.
“What will happen when the response to an incident off of Courtenay-Comox or Parksville-Qualicum is coming not from Comox but from Victoria?
“With these closures, our Island communities are losing jobs and services, our fishers and other mariners are being put at increased risk, and our shorelines are facing greater exposure to environmental disaster.”
North Island–Powell River Liberal candidate Peter Schwarzhoff questions the reasoning behind the planned closures.
“The Harper Conservatives have failed to make a strong case for reducing the number of call centres,” he said. “They leave us to conclude the closures have more to do with reducing government services and nothing to do with efficiency. In the process, badly needed economic inputs in smaller communities disappear.”
Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan could not be reached on short notice to comment on the situation.