Spurred on by the momentum of a local petition, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns is pushing to keep the West Coast’s need for lifeguards at Long Beach top of mind.
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve ended its Surf Guard program in the wake of a $29 million budget cut to Parks Canada in 2012. The program had included a surf guard tower near Lovekin Rock, which was the scene of two fatal ocean accidents in 2018 as well as several reported rescues. The petition to bring that program back was launched by Ucluelet surfer Justin Merk on April 3 and had reached 786 signatures on April 20.
“I commend Justin for taking the leadership on that and we need to continue to put pressure on the government so that this doesn’t fall off their radar,” Johns said.
Johns told the Westerly News that he met with Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna last week and urged her to not just restore the surf guard program, but to extend it into the shoulder season months.
“I was able to articulate the concerns from the region, give her some background about the length of the program, the impact the program had on saving lives over almost 40 years, the amount of points of contact, but also the significant importance of the amount of incidents that take place off of Lovekin Rock, in that concentrated area, versus anywhere else on the coast,” he said.“I explained to her that it’s not just rescues but we’ve actually had fatalities…It was a reckless cut by the Conservatives in 2012. We’re looking for her government to do the right thing and reinstate the surf guard program.”
He noted that the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has repeatedly suggested the region is too large to implement an effective surf guard program and added that McKenna repeated that suggestion during their meeting, but he stressed the importance of focusing on Lovekin Rock.
“This is the most dangerous area in the region with the highest amount of incidents by far,” he said. “I made it very clear to [McKenna], there was no wavering, that we absolutely need the surfguard program reinstated at Long Beach near Lovekin Rock so we have eyes and boots on the ground to respond in an emergency.”
Johns has joined local efforts to restore the program before, but suggested his confidence is higher this time around.
“Now, we’ve really had a full on opportunity to help her understand the seriousness of the issue and that we don’t want to wait until there’s another fatality,” he said.
He added that McKenna promised him that she’d investigate.
“She assured me that she’s going to look into it more and get back to me. I can’t expect that I’m going to get a response in the next week or two, but I will continue to request an update as she looks at this concern,” he said.
The Westerly News reached out to McKenna’s office, but had not heard back by presstime.