The Saturday Morning Listen crew is feeling pretty militant. We’re angry that last month’s blistering report on coastguard cutbacks — and how they crippled an oilspill response — is already fading from the public’s memory. It seems impossible that the Harper government’s ideological cost-cutting has put our waters, our trade and our communities at risk — and yet the cutbacks are not a flashpoint in this election. And it seems unreasonable to expect us not to continue to bang this drum long and loud until the last ballot is cast.
We’re feeling especially angry this week because the first federal election debate just unfolded — and while there was an attempt to position up on pipelines and tankers and oil, there was zero mention of mending the maritime safety net that the Harper Conservatives have ripped to shreds. Or of the risky flag-of-convenience ships they are inviting into our coastal trade.
(For our readers outside of Canada, we’re electing a new national government on Oct. 19, and the campaign season has just officially kicked off, so it’s time for us to be debating policy that affects our maritime workers, our maritime trade, our three coasts and their communities … and Thursday night, as the first debate was held by party leaders, the silence on all those fronts was deafening.)
On April 8, a brand new, flag-of-convenience bulk carrier named the Marathassa leaked about 3,000 litres of bunker fuel into English Bay in the heart of Vancouver. There was a two-hour delay in the response by coastguard crew, who were crippled by cutbacks in staff, by lack of spending on the exercises and drills that keep crew trained and ready, by closure of the Kitsilano base — which sits within spitting distance of the leaking ship, shuttered and stripped of its vessels, its crews and its spill-response gear — and by decisions to remove critical staff to distant posts, too far from the scene to assess what needed done or to hit the deck and do it.
We’ve already highlighted the damning conclusions of a report assessing what went wrong with the response and cleanup.
Coastguard bases closed. Equipment cut back. Crew stretched too thin. Marine traffic services moved and hacked apart. Transport Canada’s marine inspection undermanned. It’s a recipe for disaster, and as we have seen on the West Coast, we are already paying the price.
So we thought that while you settle back over coffee and weekend barbecues to debate the political scene, you might want to remember just how it looked and sounded when Vancouver suffered an oil spill this spring — not the first place in Canada that Conservative cuts have been felt, and, we predict, not the last.
We implore voters across the country to raise their voices on this issue — to make it clear to every candidate that the price of your vote is a promise to rebuild a maritime safety system that works.
Tell them you’re voting for our coasts. And for our marine workers.
Need some inspiration? Listen in as the Marathassa spill, cleanup and finger-pointing unfold:
- Concerned community members occupy the Kits base when its closure is announced — hoping to convince Harper how risky his decision will be for everyone on the water, says Dave Clark, vice-president of the crew’s union.
- Global TV has a story the afternoon of the spill, including some overhead footage of the slick. Note the uncertainty over the source of the spill more than 24 hours after it was first spotted.
- Global again, with an item saying 80 per cent of the bunker had been cleaned up, the MV Marathassa had been confirmed as the source, and the politicians are already piling on. Vancouver’s mayor has begun blaming the coast guard for a sluggish and inadequate cleanup.
- Coast guard admits communications broke down, says cleanup ongoing.
- Five days after the leak, Transport Canada says mechanical problems with valves and a second issue they wouldn’t name aboard the Marathassa led to the leak.
- NDP leader Tom Mulcair says his party will introduce a motion in Parliament demanding the Conservative government reopen the Kitsilano Coast Guard station on English Bay. “What we’ve learned is we don’t even have adequate response time for a moderately sized oil spill,” he tells reporters.
A Transport Canada report on the spill says a two-hour delay in response could have been avoided.
- MP Jinny Sims speaks in the House of Commons on an NDP motion by MP Fin Donnelly; it calls on the government to reverse many of the recent coastguard cuts. Support from the ITF is mentioned at the five-minute mark of the video.