West Coast MP Gord Johns is hoping the federal government’s recent decision to reopen Kitsilano’s Coast Guard station is a sign of things to come.
The Kitsilano station was one of three in BC that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government decided to close in a 2012 move to consolidate Canada’s 22 Marine Communication and Traffic Services (MCTS) centres into 12.
Ucluelet’s MCTS centre closed earlier this year and the centre in Comox is slated to shut down in March 2016.
Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Comox, told the Westerly News that convincing Canada’s Liberal government to halt the Comox station’s closure is his top priority.
“Even though Comox is officially outside the riding, it greatly affects the residents of our riding and coastal British Columbians,” he said.
He chastised Harper’s Conservatives for not putting in the due diligence needed to know what to hold and what to fold in regards to marine safety.
“They didn’t look at safety risks,” he said.
“They went on an ideologically driven process that was about saving money and not about saving lives.”
He acknowledged the Liberals consolidated BC’s 10 Coast Guard stations into five during the 1990’s but said consultations were done back then.
“They went through a proper consultation process where they identified the risks associated with consolidation and when they did that process they identified they could go down to five stations,” he said.
“When the conservatives did it, they didn’t do a consultation process and it was inadequate.”
He suggested if today’s Liberal government goes through the proper consultations, the closures would be reversed.
“If this government puts a halt to the closure of the Comox station and applies the adequate consultation and research that wasn’t done in the first place, this station won’t be closed and hopefully they will reopen the station in Ucluelet, which is essential to the West Coast of Vancouver Island and very important in our relationship with Americans in marine safety,” he said.
He added valuable local knowledge was lost when the Conservatives consolidated BC’s five centres into two centres located in Victoria and Prince Rupert.
“When it comes to marine safety, local knowledge saves lives,” he said.
“On any given summer day you’ve got 10,000 vessels in the water and you’re trying to pluck out that mayday call and then you’re trying to make sure that your staff have the knowledge of the key points of interests to put out the mayday call to other mariners in local waters to get out and assist in a marine rescue.”
He added marine traffic is rising in BC.
“We’ve seen significant growth in the economy in trade with Asia,” he said.
“It’s far outpacing marine safety. We’re investing less in marine safety and cutting marine safety when, in fact, we should have mechanisms in place to make sure that marine safety keeps pace with economic growth.”
He assured that while his attention is currently focused on Comox, he still plans to fight for Ucluelet’s station to be reopened.
“Everybody clearly knows that, being from the West Coast of Vancouver Island, I have a deep understanding of the impact of the closure of the Ucluelet station and it’s extremely high on my priority list personally,” he said.
“I have a really strong deepened understanding of the impact of that station being closed so it’s extremely high on my priority list but first and foremost we have to stop the government from closing another station and we’re getting right out in front of that.”
He said reopening Ucluelet’s MCTS station was a hot topic during his meetings with Ucluelet and Tofino locals earlier this month.
“I heard it loud and clear that they want to see that station reopened,” he said.
“I’m very confident that people on the Coast want to see strong safety and emergency measures in place for confidence in mariners, confidence to build a strong and healthy marine economy and for what’s really important to all of us as West Coasters in terms of recreation, transportation and our cultural needs.”
Losing the local MCTS centre cost the West Coast about 25 jobs and Johns noted this was a big hit to the West Coast’s economy and population.
“We’re seeing more and more people leaving rural communities to urban centres,” he said.
“Prosperity is not staying in local communities, knowledge isn’t staying now in local communities and even safety isn’t staying in local communities and I’ve got a big problem with that.”
He encourages West Coasters to sign petitions and write to Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Hunter Tootoo to make their opinions on the Coast Guard closures known.
“Petitions are strong, they give the Member of Parliament an opportunity to stand up in the house of commons and present the petition,” he said.
“I urge people to send letters and emails to the minister’s office urging them to halt the closure of Comox and reopen the Ucluelet marine traffic control station.”
Locals can send letter-mail to any Member of Parliament postage-free.