RM of Gimli mayor Randy Woroniuk with Gimli MLA Jeff Wharton stand next to a boat in the Gimi Harbour in Gimli, Man., on Friday, June 2, 2017. (Juliet Kadzviti/Interlake Spectator/Postmedia Network)
An advocate organization for safety on Manitoba waterways was blindsided by news the federal government apparently plans to shut down coast guard operations here and in Northernwestern Ontario.
Kevin Tordiffe, the operations manager with the Manitoba branch of the Lifesaving Society, said Friday his organization had no advanced notice the coast guard would be closing stations in Gimli, Selkirk and Kenora, Ont.
Tordiffe said he was “pretty shocked” by the news and finds it to be poorly timed given it came less than a week after North American Safe Boating Week. Tordiffe said the society used the week to bring to light statistics that show, over the last five years of boating data, drowning was the leading cause of death.
“The Coast Guard provides vital services in the area of navigation and search and rescue,” Tordiffe said. “And navigation is essentially the prevention action that we take to reduce boating fatalities.
“… And for areas like the south basin of Lake Winnipeg and Lake of the Woods, those are heavily-boated areas and navigation can be an issue.”
Tordiffe said Manitoba’s situation mirrors that of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station near downtown Vancouver, which was shuttered by the previous Conservative government, but was reopened last spring.
“It was an election promise to reopen a base for the same reasons that I’m saying the bases in Manitoba and Kenora should stay open,” Tordiffe said.
A spokeswoman for the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, which represents coast guard workers, said their organization has been given mixed signals as to the timing and roll out of the plan.
“It is worrisome that the needs of the individual communities have not been reviewed prior to any announcements being made,” UCTE national president Christine Collins said in a statement.
James Bezan, the MP for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, said he plans to talk to Dominic LeBlanc, the minister responsible for the coast guard, next week with a goal of getting the decision “reversed”.
“First and foremost, this is about safety and security for everybody not only in Lake Winnipeg basin and south basin and the communities that depend upon the lake for a living,” Bezan said. “A lot of people in Winnipeg have cottages and secondary residences around Lake Winnipeg. Northern communities depend upon it for their freight in the summer and the idea that they would try and save a few million bucks by shutting down these bases makes absolutely no sense.”
A CCG spokeswoman said late Friday said the operations at the three bases are “under review.”
“As the Coast Guard invests in strengthening the navigation system in Canada’s busiest waterways, it will reduce the patchwork of its services that currently exists on inland waterways,” Carole Saindon said in an email. “The Coast Guard will work closely with Indigenous peoples, local communities, marinas and boating associations who may wish to maintain local aids to navigation systems themselves.”