Closure of Kits coast guard base may be linked to land deal with First Nations group
- Closure of Kits coast guard base may be linked to land deal with First Nations group
BY SAM COOPER, THE PROVINCEFEBRUARY 23, 2013
Coast guard vehicle leaves Kitsilano coast guard station Feb. 19 after it was closed permanently.
Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESSLeaked federal memos suggest Stephen Harper's government rushed the controversial closure of the Kitsilano coast guard base in order to expedite the sale of valuable waterfront lands to a First Nations group, says a Vancouver city councillor.
An internal government memo titled "Update on Jericho disposal" was obtained Wednesday by Coun. Kerry Jang and Jim Sinclair of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
In separate interviews Saturday, both told The Province the memo appears to explain the puzzling politics behind the Kits base closure.
"The closure was all so sudden and dramatic," Jang said.
"It seems like the federal government is pushing the closure of the base so that they can make a land deal, so they can get revenue and balance their books, at the expense of safety of Vancouver mariners."
Ever since Harper's government announced intentions last year to close the Kits base as part of deep budget cuts, B.C. politicians of all stripes and Vancouver first-responders have pushed back, stressing that the closure will likely lead to tragedies.
BUSIEST IN CANADA
The base in the middle of English Bay is considered the busiest in Canada. Closure of the base - which usually fields about 300 calls a year - will save $700,000 annually.
The political hornets nest surrounding the pending closure exploded when the federal government abruptly shut the base down early Tuesday with no notice to local officials, according to Jang.
Further rubbing salt in the wounds, two days later, the federal government announced plans to invest $6.6 million for a coast guard base in Newfoundland.
In Vancouver on Friday, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose told TV reporters it was the coast guard's decision to invest in the Newfoundland base instead of the Kitsilano base.
"They are robbing Peter to pay Paul," Jang almost shouted, in a phone interview Saturday.
"I can't believe it."
DEAL SET FOR MAY/JUNE 2013
The federal memo to which Jang refers, also obtained by The Province, says federal agencies have "presented the First Nation equity proposal for the Jericho Beach, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and RCMP site," in a land negotiation that the government wants to wrap up by May or June 2013.
"This proposal unlocks the value of these properties for the economic benefit of all parties ... [and the negotiation must establish] a joint-venture agreement between First Nations and Canada Lands Company which will capture the nature of the partnership," says the memo, which does not identify the First Nations involved.
Canada Lands Co. is an agency that acquires sites deemed as "surplus properties" not needed any longer by government agencies, in order to transfer sale proceeds to the federal treasury.
REFERENCE TO DFO LAND
Jang said he can't be sure the leaked memo refers to the DFO land where the Kits coast guard base sits, because there are multiple DFO properties in Metro Vancouver.
However, city records indicate the Kits base is on Crown land being used by the DFO and - given the timing of the base closure, ahead of the hoped-for May 2013 negotiation conclusion cited in the memo - it seems to be the reasonable conclusion, Jang said.
On Saturday in response to a question from The Province, the DFO issued a statement, saying the "land where the Kitsilano station is located is owned by the province of B.C. and was leased to the federal government . . . [and] the Canadian Coast Guard is working with 'Real Property' in Fisheries and Oceans Canada to identify next steps for the building and site."
Whether or not the Kits base site is part of the federal land deal contemplated in the leaked memo, Saturday's DFO statement indicates the Kits base is now up for sale through the DFO's real estate arm, Sinclair said.
"The federal government should not sell that land quickly," Sinclair said.
"We need a coast guard station on that land, not another high-end waterfront restaurant."
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