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UPDATE: Lunney expands on criticism of coast guard cuts

Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP James Lunney expanded on his recent concerns over Canadian Coast Guard cuts Monday, saying that Ottawa bureaucrats have overlooked West Coast geographical challenges by proposing to reduce marine communications and traffic services from five to just two.

The cuts are part of Bill C-38, the federal budget, which has moved into the senate and is expected to pass into legislation this week.

Kitsilano’s search and rescue base is also slated to be closed, which has caused widespread public concern.

Last week, Lunney said he had asked for a hold to be put on the changes – which would see 10 of the country’s 22 MCTS stations close over the next three years – so that further review could take place.

The five-term politician, who has backed coast guard services since first elected in 2000, said the new plan would leave an imbalance in coast guard services while leaving the West Coast prone to service gaps.

“The MCTS proposal would leave just two centres monitoring 27,000 kilometres of B.C. coast from Sidney on Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert in the North Coast,” said Lunney in a press release. “By contrast, Atlantic Canada, even after reorganization, will retain five MCTS centres covering 11,400 kilometres of coastline. Something all coastal communities B.C. residents understand but Ottawa seems prone to overlook is our offshore geological fault line; minor quakes happen regularly and geologists tell us a major one is a certainty.”

Lunney pointed to a strong quake in 2004 that shook Seattle and closed down U.S. monitoring stations, with Canadian centres temporarily picking up the service. If a similar quake affected Canadian centres, especially Sidney, it would result in one centre being responsible for the entire coast.

That centre would be MCTS Prince Rupert, which has its own challenges. Lunney, who has visited the site, said heavy rain, fog, and low cloud cover make many of the antennae inaccessible for weeks on end, making it inadequate to be the sole backup for Sidney.

Because of the Asia Pacific Gateway project, the area will also see increased shipping traffic, including oil supertanker traffic from Kitimat if the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is built.

Under the new plan, MCTS Tofino, based in Ucluelet, will be closed, taking about 25 jobs out of the community of about 1,600 people. MCTS Tofino monitors vessels including container ships, tankers, military ships, tugs, barges, sail boats, yachts, cruise ships, commercial and recreational fishers approaching Juan de Fuca Strait, one of the busiest marine traffic lanes in North America.

“There is an old adage: a threefold cord is not easily broken,” said Lunney. “MCTS Tofino should remain part of a future state-of-the-art coast guard service.”

The proposed plan states that improved technology allows for the closures while maintaining current service levels.

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