What happened the last time the Tories tried to shut Kitsilano Coast Guard base

This is not the first time a Conservative government has attempted to shut down the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, as Coast Guard veteran Capt. Don Newell reminded Mayor Gregor Robertson in a letter late last week.

Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives tried to shut it down in 1992 after the base was destroyed by fire. Thousands rallied to oppose the closure and won teh fight to save the base that was then, as it is today, the busiest in Canada.

But today’s plans, Newell points out, go much further to include cuts to marine communications and spill clean-up capabilities. Here’s his letter, reprinted with his permission:

I applaud the position of Vancouver City Council in opposing this planned closure. It is a threat to life and property on the West Coast: plans to amalgamate marine traffic radio stations, staff cuts and the station closure put mariners, the environment and the travelling public at risk. The death of a thousand cuts is potentially real in this case.

The planned closure is a repeat of an attempt to shut down the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base in 1992.

When the base burned down, it was temporarily moved to the Fisheries Dock in West Vancouver to maintain coverage for Vancouver Harbour. When the decision to close the base was announced, people mobilized.

At that time, I and a host of like-minded volunteers collected thousands of signatures to present to then Justice Minister Kim Campbell, as the Vancouver Centre MP. She refused to accept them or meet to discuss the issue. The petition was presented to Parliament by former Burnaby MP Svend Robinson.

At that time, and to date, Kits Base was and is the busiest base in Canada. It was showcased during Expo 86 by the Federal Government. There are even more people boating and operating on the waters adjacent to Vancouver now, than in 1986 or 1992.

In addition, plans to replace the Osprey (the cutter at Kits Base) with the hovercraft will not work; the vessel is not as versatile or timely. The hovercraft is designed to operate in shallow water (which is why it’s based near the airport), cannot tow a vessel in distress, and has limited visibility at the best of times, as the spray thrown up from the skirt obscures sight in all but the calmest weather.

I know this as I drove the smaller hovercraft (“CCG”) in Georgia Strait when I was a Canadian Coast Guard deckhand in the 1970s. The risk to the boating population is extreme for exposure and loss of life, with the extended response times; marinas and port facilities are located in Vancouver, not at the airport.

I worked at the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base from 1974 until 1981. Then I joined the Vancouver Fire Department and worked on Vancouver Fireboat #2, so I’m aware that the VFD does not perform marine rescues.

Now I am a licensed Captain on the BC coast. I am appalled by these decisions, which show a lack of awareness and understanding of the risks to the boating public and professional mariners.

The first attempt to shut Kits Base down was initiated by a previous Conservative government. Hopefully our current political leaders will again see the error of their ways, and reconsider both the closure and service cuts in order to protect public safety.