Columbia River–Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald is urging the B.C. government to act to resolve the dispute between municipal officials in Golden and provincial authorities that has left a dangerous stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway without road rescue services for nearly two months.
In early May, the Town of Golden’s municipal council rejected an offer from the province of B.C. that would have seen the Golden Fire Department assume responsibility for the service from the previous provider, Golden and District Search and Rescue.
Mayor and council rejected the province’s funding offer, saying it fell short because it didn’t provide adequate capital funding for things like rescue trucks and equipment, amongst other concerns.
Macdonald noted the busy summer travel season is almost in full swing and said the situation needs to be resolved. “It is the responsibility of the province to ensure that when accidents happen, trained and equipped rescuers are quickly on the scene,” Macdonald said. “These are often life or death situations. But with the summer travel season upon us, there is no one contracted to provide this service in this area.”
Macdonald said the government needed to find a solution before the busy Canada Day long weekend. “There is no question that the government is going to have to move outside its traditional service provision model to solve this problem, and it is going to cost the government money. The current situation is unacceptable.
In early June, the Golden Star first reported on this ongoing situation, when Darryl Crane filed this report:
The Town of Golden has rejected a plan that would have seen the Golden Fire Department take over providing road rescue service on highways around Golden.
It has been more than a month since Golden and District Search and Rescue (GADSAR) stopped providing the service, and the hope of getting a deal completed was dashed at a regular council meeting, when Golden Mayor Christina Benty issued the following statement as a resolution from a closed session.
“Council rejects entering into a pilot project with the province under the terms currently offered to provide regional road rescue services based on the current provincial model for delivery.”
In a statement released after the meeting, Benty explained why this decision was made by council.
“Given the high volume of traffic that travel to and through our community along the highways 12 months of the year, road rescue services are critical. The Golden Town Council has made it very clear that they do not want property tax dollars going to providing what they strongly feel is a provincial responsibility,” she said.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond, whose department has been working with the town to develop a solution to this problem, released the following statement after hearing the news of the decision made by the Golden council.
“We are disappointed with the council’s decision to not expand their current road rescue services delivered by the fire department inside the city limits to the areas directly outside the city limits. Road rescue requires specialized training and equipment, we were hoping to leverage the training and experience that already exists in Golden and augment it with greater resources to help them in deploying to the areas just outside their current jurisdiction,” Bond said.
Bond went on to explain the province, on May 1, proposed a one-year pilot project that ensured 100 per cent full reimbursement of costs, plus offered the town $10,000 for their administrative costs to deliver the service for the year.
“The normal reimbursement rates for things like WorkSafe BC and third party insurance coverage, as well as equipment replacement costs, would still apply. EMBC also offered to support the fire department’s application for gaming grants to help them acquire any new capital assets that would supplement what would already be transferred to them from the GADSAR group,” she said. “We believe that the area would be best served by a group that is in or near Golden since response times can be critical to survival.”
The province has been working with local MLA Norm Macdonald to try and find a suitable solution to the current situation according to Bond.
Macdonald said the current situation has to get rectified as soon as possible for the safety of all the people who travel in the area.
“The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General is a combination of what used to be two ministries. It is a file which is incredibly busy … Shirley Bond is widely seen as very effective and my dealings with minister Bond have been positive.,” Macdonald said. “Since March we have been working on this issue. I met with all the staff in Victoria who are working on this issue three weeks ago and they were confident that they had a solution … clearly they don’t. This is a provincial responsibility. This is a fairly unique situation. This is a highway that sees a tremendous number of accidents.”
Macdonald added there are many issues that make this section of road a dangerous one to drive on at times, and a solution needs to be found as soon as possible.
“I do not put any blame on anyone but the fact is there has to be a permanent solution and the province ultimately has to find a solution,” Macdonald said.
Macdonald explained that issues like this have been in the area since his time as mayor.
“The realities are you cannot take on that vast area as a town responsibility. You simply cannot do it. I don’t think that is what the province is asking us to do. They know we all need to work together. The discussion I have had have been hugely respectful to the community,” Macdonald said.
Coun. Mike Pecora had been a part of the Golden Fire Department for over a decade before being elected to council.
“I do not think it is a benefit to the town the way the province has it structured and wants to give it to us. If that was tweaked where there was absolutely no cost to the local taxpayers and was a benefit to the local fire department where the department was fully supported and the province wanted to give them new rescue vehicles and cover the cost of the equipment then I would back that 1000 per cent,” Pecora said.
According to David Allen, Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Golden, the numbers simply did not add up to make this project happen under the current system.
“The proposed project was based on the current system of compensation. The purpose of the pilot was to test and get data to see whether the compensation through that policy was adequate to cover the costs of providing the service,” Allen said. “It would top up any lack of compensation so that it would be a break even proposition for the town. However it did not include the capital costs.”
Allen explained that under the current system the society within the fire department would have to apply for grants from the province for the extra costs. In the end there was no answer from the provincial representatives on where any extra money needed would come Allen explained.
Golden Fire Department Fire Chief Ken McClure said, “I am hopeful the town and province can come to an agreement that is both beneficial for all parties involved and the motoring public.”