Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray says an Aug. 4 accident in English Bay underlines the need to keep a Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue base in Kitsilano.
Murray, the Liberal critic for small business and tourism, says a cruise ship carrying 250 passengers collided with two boats during that night's Celebration of Light fireworks show. She said Coast Guard specialists were first on the scene.
"Anyone involved in marine activities and search and rescue are just aghast at the idea of closing the base," Murray said.
Coast Guard employees learned in May that the Kitsilano station would be consolidated with the Richmond hovercraft station based 17 nautical miles away. Closing the base would reportedly save the Department of Fisheries and Oceans $900,000 annually.
Murray introduced a motion in the House of Commons in mid June calling on the government to reverse its decision to close the base in spring 2013. Before the Commons rose she wrote Conservative MPs who represent ridings adjacent to Vancouver's harbour and asked them to support her motion, calling it a nonpartisan issue. "[I] asked them to do that by end of the first week of July and didn't have a response," Murray said.
The federal government will add a new inshore rescue boat in a downtown Vancouver location that will operate from May long weekend to Labour Day. Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield announced June 26 an additional $100,000 for the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (Pacific), newly named the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, which operates with five units of trained volunteers in the Vancouver area.
"People who are in the business say it's dangerous work and we know that two Coast Guard volunteers were involved in a tragedy up in the Sechelt area and lost their lives," Murray said. "People who speak to me say you cannot replace professionals with their equipment and their 24-hour presence with volunteers."
Murray noted Kitsilano teams respond to incidents that happen during busy special events, recreational boaters and attempted suicides.
A press secretary for Ashfield said the minister wasn't available for comment before the Courier's press deadline. The Courier was directed to a website in response to questions forwarded to the minister's office. A local communications officer did not return a call from the Courier.
The Fisheries and Oceans website states the Kitsilano base responded to 271 calls in 2011. People's lives were at risk or potentially at risk in 76 cases. Fifty-four "taskings" were cancelled, meaning Kitsilano's services were not required to resolve the incident.
The department contends response times won't be lengthened. Murray argues a review released by the Conservative Mulroney government 20 years ago concluded the Kitsilano station was vital to safety in Vancouver's harbour. She believes the waterways now see vastly increased marine traffic. "So if a Conservative government deemed it vital to safety and security over 20 years ago, it makes no sense that it would be dispensable today," she said.
Murray wants concerned members of the public to sign a petition on her website that she'll present in the House of Commons next month. "The more voices that are calling for this decision to be reversed, the more possibility that government will reconsider," she said. "After all, it's a relatively minimal savings when you consider the potential loss of life and the possibility of lawsuits that would result from that."