Lightkeepers to remain at the switch

The Canadian Coast Guard’s latest attempt to eliminate lighthouse keepers was quashed Wednesday by the federal government.

Map of the manned lightstations on the B.C. coast.

The Canadian Coast Guard’s latest attempt to eliminate lighthouse keepers was quashed Wednesday by the federal government.

“As long as I’m around, I will always advocate for the retention of lightkeepers,” said North Island MP John Duncan, who also serves as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Duncan specifically asked Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea – the minister responsible for Coast Guard – to make the announcement in B.C. Lightkeepers in Newfoundland and Labrador will also retain their jobs.

“We went through this in 1995…my aspiration is we shouldn’t have to go through this again…(but) one never knows what a new government might do,” said Duncan during a conference call from Ottawa.

While Duncan’s comment hinted of a spring election, he placed the blame for the lightkeepers’ destaffing review squarely on Coast Guard brass. Coast Guard executives have tried to get rid of lightkeepers since the early 1970s, and Duncan said they seem to try again and again with every new government and every new Fisheries minister.

“Maybe they would learn it’s not on,” he said.

That assessment was echoed by Jim Abram, a retired lightkeeper and longtime advocate of maintaining manned lightstations.

“I think John Duncan’s comments are 100 per cent accurate that this is coming from the Coast Guard brass,” said the former Cape Mudge lightkeeper and longtime area director on the Strathcona Regional District. “That’s where it’s always come from and always will come from in the future.”

The decision of the Conservative government to keep lightkeepers follows a report and recommendation from a Senate Standing Committee.

The committee visited B.C. coastal lightstations last fall, including the Cape Mudge Lighthouse on Quadra Island. During their tour, the Senators repeatedly heard that lightkeepers are the “eyes and ears” of the coast, especially in remote areas.

“It’s people seeing people,” said committee chair Senator Bill Rompkey during the November tour. “We’ve fallen in love with technology and we think it’s the answer to everything. It isn’t. You need people to operate technology.”

Duncan said manned lightstations are important for several reasons.

“Lightstations and lightkeepers are an icon,” he said. “They’re important for safety, sovereignty and science. They’re a community liaison and a liaison with government agencies.”

There are 27 manned lightstations on the B.C. coast. Coast Guard wants to eliminate the lightkeepers in order to save money, but Duncan didn’t know what the cost is for the keepers at B.C.’s 27 manned lighthouses.

The minister also skirted the issue of scoring political points when an election call seems inevitable.

“I don’t care what what the timing is, I’m delighted,” he said.