Billions of dollars worth of world trade annually flows through the frequently treacherous waters of the First Narrows, under the Lion’s Gate Bridge, to and from Vancouver Harbour. Economically, there is no more critical piece of coast that the Canadian Coast Guard has to guard than the entrance to Canada’s busiest port. When considering whether to rebuild the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station after it burned to the waterline in 1991, the Canadian Government realized that any possible marine incident in the First Narrows could be a matter of national economic importance and should therefore warrant a “rapid and substantial response” .The Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard Station was rebuilt, stocked with 3 cutters, a full complement of highly trained, professional crew and, thereafter, always within 10 minutes of providing a substantial marine response to the area.
A lot of water has flowed under the Lions Gate since then, and with it, a Tsunamic increase in marine traffic through the First Narrows. The deep sea ships have become far larger and far more frequent. Port Metro Vancouver is immensely larger and more prosperous than its previous incarnation; the “Port of Vancouver”, was in the last decade of 1900’s. Yet in that time the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station has been seriously eroded and reduced to a skeleton crew of 3-when they go on a call, there’s no one left manning the fort. Over the next few years, and sailing further on into the future, the First Narrows will continue to be a critical marine navigation point required to facilitate, among other things, Canada’s slaking of China’s insatiable thirst for Alberta tar sands oil.
The impending closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station to save $900,000 on a 12 crew rotation who work 24/7/365 at the ready to, among other important duties, protect this golden goose of Canadian Coastline was, until last Friday, baffling to say the least. It always seemed like such a good investment; reasonable insurance for Canadian economic prosperity.
Last Friday, Jody Thomas, Deputy Coast Guard Commissioner, held a press conference all the way from Ottawa providing some clarity to ranking BC Conservative Minister James Moore’s previous week’s claim that there had been broad consultation before the decision to close the economically vital Kitsilano Coast Guard Station, when she revealed that, actually, only the Department of National Defence had been consulted. Very puzzling: why not CCG’s other federal partners concerned with the strategically important First Narrows: such as Ports Canada, Transport Canada or Port Metro Vancouver? Then it all began to make sense. The Harper Government is strapped for cash and so the simple plan for the future is to divert $900,000 by replacing the rapid and substantial Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard Cutter response to the First Narrows with a rapid and substantial response by the DND’s newly acquired F-35 fighter jets. Nice going Ottawa, problem solved.