Seafaring citizens and politicians of almost all stripes plan to rally in Vanier Park on Saturday to call on the Conservative government not to close the 50-year-old Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.
Dave Clark, regional vice president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees and one of the rally’s organizers, said in the months leading up to this year’s May long weekend alone, the station responded to 55 calls where people were in danger.
“Right now we’re throwing the dice to see if those lives will be saved or not,” he told Metro on Friday. “I don’t think this government was elected on a promise of taking away front-line jobs. Their suggestion was office jobs. This is front line. This is not what they got voted in for.”
A multi-party lineup of speakers are set to join forces, including B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix, federal Green Party leader MP Elizabeth May, Liberal MP Joyce Murray, Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, Vancouver Park Board Commissioner Constance Barnes and retired former Kitsilano Coast Guard Station commander Fred Moxey.
The Conservatives have backtracked a bit since making the announcement in May saying they would slash the station’s $900,000 annual budget, consolidating its duties with the next nearest station in Richmond, 17 nautical miles and 35 minutes away.
Initially, they said the Kitsilano station’s duties would be covered by a new inshore boat rescue station that would operate during peak hours from the May long weekend to Labour Day. Then, in June, they announced $100,000 in new funding for the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (Pacific), newly named the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, which operates five units of trained volunteers in the Vancouver area.
But Clark said auxiliary officers, who have to get out of bed and down to the water in time to respond to nighttime emergencies, can’t deliver the same level of service as a 24-hour professional Coast Guard station.
“The B.C. coroner just came out today and said there was the highest number of drowning deaths in B.C.’s history this year,” Clark noted, “And when we are the highest (deaths) we’ve ever been at, we are actually going to take away the front-line staff that actually keep those numbers in check? It can only get worse.”
Heritage Minister James Moore, who has been a proponent of the Conservatives’ plan, could not be reached for comment.
No firm timeline for the closure has been set, but Clark said if the decision is not reversed this is expected to be the station’s last summer.
The rally begins at 1 p.m. at 1661 Whyte Avenue in Vanier Park, off Chestnut Street below the Burrard Street Bridge.
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