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Duncan vulnerable over Coast Guard closures

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan could lose his Vancouver Island North seat over his government’s plan to close Coast Guard stations and communications centres in B.C., a union-sponsored poll indicates.

The Strategic Communications telephone poll of 648 voters in Duncan’s riding was commissioned by the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees in late October. It found that 79 per cent oppose the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station and Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres in Vancouver, Comox and Tofino that direct and monitor vessels.

Of those polled 64 per cent strongly disagree with the government decision and 76 per cent say Duncan’s support for Coast Guard closures makes them less likely to vote for him and his party in the next election. Opposition to the closures includes 73 per cent of voters who say they supported Duncan in the 2011 federal election.

Regardless, the minister stands by the government's actions. “I want to assure you that decisions made by our government based on recommendations from experts at the Canadian Coast Guard are designed to protect the lives and livelihoods of Canadians. The Coast Guard will continue to use the same network of ships and responders on the Island to keep mariners safe in an emergency situation and the ongoing renewal of Coast Guard resources will make Vancouver Island a safer place to be on the water. The Island will continue to be served by the same network of search and rescue lifeboats,and two helicopters. “

Union of Canadian Transportation Employees B.C. Vice-President Dave Clark, who represents workers at the Kitsilano Station, says: “The writing is on the wall for every Conservative MP who supports closing needed Canadian Coast Guard stations and centres in B.C. Voters will punish them for making a foolish decision and Coast Guard workers will make sure they know who shut down emergency search and rescue services.”

The poll of Vancouver Island North riding voting age residents should be seen by Conservatives as “the canary in the coal mine,” says Allan Hughes, Regional Director of Canadian Auto Workers Local 2182 which represents Coast Guard Marine Communications Officers.

“Voters in Vancouver Island North know how important their Marine Communications and Traffic Services centre in Comox is in coordinating Coast Guard search and rescue operations and safely directing vessel traffic at sea. To shut down such vital services in Comox, in Vancouver and in Tofino and attempt to run them remotely with cameras and radar is a recipe for maritime disasters.”

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair warns that while voters will hold all 21 Conservative MPs accountable for Coast Guard closures, those who won close election battles in 2011 will be targeted next time. “John Duncan won by less than 1,900 votes in Vancouver Island North. We will make sure every voter knows Conservatives cut the Coast Guard,” says Sinclair.

The government has announced the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station will be closed in early 2013, leaving all rescues to the Sea Island Coast Guard station in Richmond 17 nautical miles away.

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