Comox coast guard closure supported by review

A review by Members of Parliament has failed to save a Canadian Coast Guard base on Vancouver Island. The marine communications centre in Comox will close May 10 as planned.

Critics hoped review by Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans would reverse closure

In 2012, the then-Conservative government decided to reorganize coast guard operations nationwide and run all West Coast marine communications out of MCTS centres in Prince Rupert and Victoria. (CBC)

A review by Members of Parliament has failed to save a Canadian Coast Guard base on Vancouver Island.

Critics hoped the review by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans would lead to a reversal of the decision to close the Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) centre in Comox.

Instead, the committee found the closure would not impact the emergency marine response on the West Coast.

"I'm very pleased that the standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recognized that marine safety remains a top priority, even with the consolidation of Comox," said Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo.

However, the committee did find there are problems with coast guard radio communications in B.C.

Mariners have reported frequent outages and problems with the quality of the coast guard radio signal on the West Coast.

"We've certainly indicated very strongly to the Coast Guard that there are concerns about how this is operating," said Ken Hardie, a standing committee member and MP for Fleetwood--Port Kells.

"They maintain that everything is fine. A lot of us have a healthy skepticism of this which is why we are requiring frequent reporting on outages, whether it is something unique or a recurring issue," Hardie said.

Safety concerns remain

The Comox communications centre will close on May 10 and all marine communications on the West Coast will be monitored from Victoria and Prince Rupert.

The union that represents employees in Comox is disappointed the centre won't be kept open until the larger issues are solved.

"Over 16,000 people signed a petition saying this is a bad move," said Scott Hodge, a spokesman for Unifor Local 2182.

"[Comox] is the only centre on the West Coast that is not in a tsunami area."

The decision to close Comox was made in 2012 by the Conservative government as part of a larger modernization plan. Communications centres in Tofino and Vancouver were also closed.

The marine communication centres are responsible for listening for distress calls and guiding ships, much like air traffic controllers at airports.

All employees in Comox were offered new positions in Victoria or Prince Rupert, but some have chosen to retire or leave their jobs rather than move, Hodge said.