Coast guard pulls up anchor on Manitoba, northwestern Ontario waterways: union
Agency to end service in Gimli, Selkirk, Kenora, says Union of Canadian Transportation Employees
The days are numbered for Canadian Coast Guard stations on inland shores in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, say officials from the union that represents coast guard employees.
The federal coast guard agency provides search and rescue operations on Lake Winnipeg, the Red River and Lake of the Woods in Ontario.
All services were to end in Kenora, Ont., and Selkirk as of Thursday night, said Christine Collins, president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees.
The coast guard will continue to provide navigational aid out of the Gimli harbour until an alternative is identified to replace the services in the area, Collins said.
"We're still trying to clarify what the situation is, but when you've got small communities, it's difficult for those that are impacted," Collins said, adding the union has been receiving conflicting messages about the imminent closures.
"If you come from a small community, you're not always prepared or able to just uproot and move elsewhere."
There are five employees and one ship — the Vakta — in Gimli that perform navigational and search and rescue duties, Collins said. Coast guard employees have received letters that their jobs will be affected, but no one has received layoff notices yet, Collins said.
A request for comment from the coast guard was not immediately returned.
Coast guard mandate has changed: union
Coast guard administration has stated navigational services provided through its internal waterways program are no longer part of the agency's core mandate, Collins said, and funding for the inland service has been discontinued.
On top of rescuing stranded boaters, the coast guard provides helpful tips on navigating waterways that might have reefs or other obstacles. Collins said for boaters regularly on Lake Winnipeg, the lack of presence means they will no longer have an authority where they can direct those questions.
"There's a safety aspect just reading the water," Collins said. "If there's nobody to give them that kind of information, it would be a little bit of concern. There's certainly safety concerns if they close it down and don't have search and rescue."
Robert Kristjanson has been a commercial fisherman on Lake Winnipeg for decades. He said he has supported the coast guard presence in Gimli for 35 years and it would be "nonsense" at this point to kill the station.
"We have a huge body of water out here," he said. "We must have coast guard on Lake Winnipeg."
James Bezan, member of Parliament for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman and Conservative defence critic, criticized the government's move to eliminate the stations.
"Seems to me that they are running away from their responsibilities," he said. "It always was part of their responsibilities. It was part of the program. It's been going on for decades.
"And for now, to have them walk away from it, seems to me that they've pivoted away from that policy."
Bezan has called on the federal government to keep funding the station at Gimli, saying he's worried about safety for navigators.
"A lot of people travel up and down the [Red] river at high speed, and if the buoys aren't out there and they hit a rock, you know, somebody's going to get hurt," he said. "And we don't want to see that happen."