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Politician and former lightkeeper gets rare honour

A local politician receives a rare honour today.

Jim Abram, a former lightkeeper and current representative for Quadra Island with the Strathcona Regional District, will receive a life membership in the B.C. Lightkeepers Union.

Abram, the first-ever recipient of such an award, will be presented with a commemorative plaque this morning at 9 a.m. in front of Quadra Island’s Cape Mudge Light Station – Abram’s former home and workplace – and the public is welcome to attend.

“The B.C. Lightkeepers Local of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees is presenting this honour to Abram in recognition of his pivotal role in reversing the Canadian Coast Guard’s decision to de-staff B.C.’s remaining staffed lighthouses, most recently in 2009 and 2010,” said Glenn Borgens, secretary-treasurer of Local 20232, who will present Abrams with the award.

Abrams was at the forefront of lobbying efforts to convince then-Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to keep a human presence at 27 lights strategically located along B.C.’s 27,000 kilometres of coastline to aid in marine and aviation safety.

In March 2011, Abram’s efforts paid off when current Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield confirmed in a letter to the Senate that it would not de-staff any lighthouses, citing Coast Guard executives’ failure to show that automation could provide the same level of protection as a lightkeeper.

“How much better can it get?” Abram said at the time of Ashfield’s letter to the Senate.

“We went through this so many times...so much money was spent...I think this is fantastic.”

Indeed, Abram, who formerly tended to the Cape Mudge lighthouse, has fought for lighkeepers for the last 25 years.

The first challenge came in the early 1970s and Abram weathered the storm then too.

Now Abram’s facing a new battle.

He’s challenging the federal government’s decision to cut the number of coast guard officers on watch at Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centres, the closest to Campbell River being at Cape Lazo in the Comox Valley.

Abram convinced the Strathcona Regional District board in January to support a resolution at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities asking the association to consider petitioning the federal government to maintain current staff levels on watch at all five B.C. marine centres along the coast.

That resolution was endorsed by the association and will be up for consideration at UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities) set for Sept. 24-28 in Victoria.

“If one life were lost because of this proposal it would be worth it to make sure this doesn’t proceed,” Abram said at the time.

“The issue is the safety of the travelling public and Campbell River is trying to increase tourism and you don’t increase tourism by reducing safety services, it doesn’t make sense. It’s nonsensical.”

Abram also helped found Local 20232 in 1994 and served as its first president. He spent most of his decades-long career as a lightkeeper at Cape Mudge.

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