Unions to Target Conservative MPs with Narrow Election Wins Over Coast Guard Closures

December 6, 2012, 3:45 PM EST

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Poll shows cuts to Canadian Coast Guard could cost Conservative cabinet minister John Duncan his seat in Vancouver Island North; voters strongly oppose planned closure of Kitsilano Coast Guard Station and Vancouver, Comox, Tofino Marine Communications & Traffic Services centres.

Conservative cabinet minister John Duncan could lose his seat over federal government plans to close Canadian Coast Guard stations and communications centres in BC, an exclusive new poll in his Vancouver Island North riding shows.

And unions representing Coast Guard workers say things will only get worse for BC Conservative MPs if they refuse to listen to public opinion opposing closures.

The poll of 648 voters in Duncan's riding found that 79% oppose the planned closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station and Marine Communications & Traffic Services centres in Vancouver, Comox and Tofino that direct and monitor vessels, with 64% strongly disagreeing with the government decision.  The Comox centre is in Duncan's own riding.

And 76% of those polled by national research firm Strategic Communications say Duncan's support for Coast Guard closures makes them less likely to vote for him and his party in the next election, with 62% saying his position makes it much less likely. 

Opposition to the closures includes 73% of voters who say they supported Duncan in the 2011 federal election.

"The writing is on the wall for every Conservative Member of Parliament who supports closing needed Canadian Coast Guard stations and centres in BC," says Dave Clark, Union of Canadian Transportation Employees BC Regional Vice-President, representing workers at the Kitsilano Station.  "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 - a big warning - says Allan Hughes, Regional Director of Canadian Auto Workers Local 2182, representing Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications Officers.

"Voters in Vancouver Island North know how important their Marine Communications & Traffic Services centre in Comox is in coordinating Coast Guard search and rescue operations and safely directing vessel traffic at sea," Hughes said from Comox.  "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."

"A Senate Committee has already halted de-staffing of light stations, as they provide vital weather observations, yet Minister Duncan seems to think the weather observations done by the Comox and Ucluelet centres aren't as valuable," Hughes added.

The federal government plan to close Coast Guard stations and centres despite huge opposition is a sad indication of Conservative priorities, says Bob Jackson, B.C. Regional Executive Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. [UCTE is a component union of PSAC]

"We are seeing the dismantling of needed public services right in front of our eyes despite the best evidence that lives will be lost," says Jackson.  "The Coast Guard, just like food inspectors, border guards and other federal workers, protects Canadians but the government just doesn't care."

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair warned that while voters will hold all 21 Conservative MPs accountable for Coast Guard closures, those who won close election battles in 2011 will be particularly targeted next time.

"John Duncan won by less than 1,900 votes in Vancouver Island North and Wai Young won by less than 4,000 votes in Vancouver South - those are the kind of ridings where we will make sure every voter knows Conservatives cut the Coast Guard," said Sinclair. 

Clark also noted that the poll found 55% of respondents do not believe existing Coast Guard search and rescue services were adequate before the cuts and that 77% are aware of the planned closures.

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 or to volunteers.

The federal government is also closing Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications & Traffic Service centres in Vancouver, Comox and Tofino that direct and monitor tanker, freighter, cruise ship, tugboat, pleasure craft and all other vessel traffic in the Port.

The automated telephone poll surveyed 648 voters in Vancouver Island North from October 26-28, with a margin of error of +/- 3.8%, 19 times out of 20.

The poll is available upon request or online at: http://psacbc.com/vi-north and http://www.caw.ca/en/11662.htm

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