Scott Fraser and Ron Cantelon mixed it up in the B.C. legislature this week over the impending closure of Coast Guard facilities on the West Coast.
However, the two MLAs weren’t as far apart on the issue as one might think.
Fraser, who represents the Alberni-Pacific Rim constituency for the NDP, kicked things off Monday, slamming the federal government’s decision to close marine communications and traffic service facilities in Comox and Ucluelet.
“Anybody who’s been on the waters in British Columbia knows that this is a very, very bad idea,” Fraser said. “These sites monitor for distress calls of vessels, everything from pleasure craft and tour boats to fully laden tankers and freighters. They’re like a marine 911 service.”
Fraser said closing the stations will put lives at risk and he urged both sides of the legislature to work together to put pressure on the federal government to change the plan.
In response, Cantelon, who represents the Parksville-Qualicum constituency, agreed that “the dangers of the sea are very prominent in our minds” and said he doesn’t necessarily disagree with Fraser.
“Marine safety must be paramount in the minds of anybody on the coast and of governments, whether it be at the local level, the municipal level, the provincial level or the federal level,” Cantelon said. “We do not disagree that we need to take action — strong action — to make sure that marine safety is ensured.”
Cantelon said mariners need to be well trained to take on the rigours of operating on the west coast — known as the Graveyard of the Pacific — but they also need the backup and support of a modern marine safety mechanism monitored by the Coast Guard. “Nothing can duplicate eyes on the water.”
Cantelon noted as well that Port Alberni has plans to take large cargo ships, which have trouble unloading more than one or two at a time in Vancouver and then loading the goods onto smaller boats. While this is an opportunity for the community, he said, it also creates yet more challenges on the water.
“I agree with the member opposite that we must be very diligent,” he said. “If we expect to attract this kind of marine opportunity, this kind of marine traffic, then we have to have the highest standards of public and marine safety on the coast.”
Cantelon, who stressed the issue is a bipartisan one, said he not only wants to see the monitoring facilities retained, but enhanced.