House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.

Topics

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member for Wild Rose drew attention to the work that the government has been doing in tax deferrals for farmers who have been dealing with drought and, in my area, flooding. He mentioned the Manitoba areas that would get the tax deferral because of the excess of moisture and how helpful that would be for farmers in my area.

Unfortunately, when this came before the House, the Liberals, who stood today and said that they were fighting for farmers, voted against that measure, which I think is deplorable. It reeks of the double-talk that happens in the House, unfortunately.

Would the member talk a bit more about this whole issue of bonding? It has come up a few times, that bonding is the only way to protect producers. Having gone through this a number of times when I worked for the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association and watching bonds fail to provide adequate protection to farmers, there is a better way.

In Alberta they are using a clearing house to ensure dollars are in bank accounts to cover cheques being written by companies. I know in other areas of the country they use assurance funds to build up a surety to cover producers in case there is a default by a corporation or a company buying their goods.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Wild Rose has maybe 30 seconds, unfortunately, to respond to a much longer question.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I do not know how I could possibly begin to even address that in 30 seconds.

I thank the hon. member for his good work on behalf of farmers. I know many of my colleagues on this side have the best interests of farmers in mind.

He gave one example of the opposition parties choosing to not have the best interests of farmers in mind. I wish they would follow the example of this Conservative government, show what is in the best interests of farmers and do what is right for them.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

October 8th, 2009 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, it is imperative the government move expeditiously to allocate the necessary resources to put in place a full-time dedicated helicopter fully equipped to search and rescue standards at the airport nearest to offshore oil activity and that it be available on a 24-hour basis with a crew trained in all aspects of search and rescue.

Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to the need for additional search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador. I thank the member for Brossard—La Prairie for seconding the motion.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are no strangers to tragedies at sea. In fact, our history is such that in small fishing communities there were so many men lost at sea that it was common that numerous women were left to raise large families without the support of a spouse.

I grew up in a historic fishing community where there were many homes that had at the very top something called a widow's walk. When boats went to sea, they were gone for extended periods of time and no one really knew when they would be returning because it was usually when there was no more room to put the fish they had caught.

More often than not, wives would go up to the widow's walk and look out to the ocean to see if there were any boats returning. When a boat was spotted, the women would watch in fear that a flag would be flying at half-mast, indicating someone had died while at sea, and hoping it was not their husband, son or brother because members of families often fished together. A boat returning was a good sign because many boats had been lost at sea with all hands, as the local papers would say.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a hate/love relationship with the sea, hate because of how dangerous it can be and love because it has provided a livelihood for thousands of years to the fishery. Now, in addition to the fishery, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are earning a living from the most recent industry we associate with the sea, and that is the oil industry.

Contrary to Alberta, where the oil is located on land, the oil resources that Newfoundland and Labrador is known for are located as far away as 350 kilometres offshore. This means that the method of travel for those who work offshore in the oil industry is usually by helicopter. To fly from St. John's, where the helicopter company is located, to the offshore oil platform takes approximately three hours.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are no strangers to work. In fact, they are proud, productive people who want nothing more than to earn a living and provide for their families. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have travelled in search of work for many years. Many went to work building high rises in New York, more went to Boston and of course we all know about the out migration of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to provinces like Alberta and Ontario.

Always in search of work, is it any wonder that when oil was discovered offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, it was considered a godsend. Not only did it mean employment, but it meant being able to live and work at home, to spend time with their families. It was not long before the comfort and satisfaction turned to worry and fear.

Prior to the use of floating production platforms offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, there was a fixed production platform called the Ocean Ranger, which was drilling in the Hibernia oil field. The Ocean Ranger commenced drilling on November 26, 1981 and on February 14, 1982 the it sank, claiming 84 lives.

I do not have to say how devastating that was, not just for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where the majority of those who worked on the Ocean Ranger were from, but for others throughout the country, North America and Europe, where some of the workers lived and were experienced in the oil industry. They were from Alberta, Texas, Norway and Scotland.

Following the loss of the Ocean Ranger, with everyone on board, a royal commission was put in place to look into the tragedy and to make recommendations to ensure, to the extent humanly possible, that such a tragedy would never occur again.

One of the recommendations was that a full-time search and rescue-dedicated helicopter be stationed at the airport nearest to ongoing offshore drilling operations and that it be readily available, with a trained crew able to perform all aspects of the rescue.

Does that sound familiar?

My motion is almost word for word that recommended 24 years ago, following the sinking of the Ocean Ranger which claimed 84 lives, twenty-four years ago, and we are still waiting to have the recommendation enacted.

The fact that the recommendation has not been acted upon was particularly upsetting when, on March 12, a helicopter carrying workers to the Hibernia offshore oil platform and the SeaRose floating production storage and offloading vessel crashed into the sea, taking all but one life. Of the 18 people on-board the helicopter, two survived the crash; however, only one survived the ordeal. Of the two who survived the crash, one, a young woman, drowned.

Needless to say, in the wake of yet another tragedy associated with the offshore oil industry, many questions have been raised about the adequacy of military search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador.

At the time of the tragedy, search and rescue helicopters located in Newfoundland and Labrador were involved in training exercises in Nova Scotia. As a result, nearly two hours passed before they were able to get to the crash site.

While we will never know if any of the victims would have survived the crash if search and rescue had arrived at the site earlier, loved ones who lost family and friends in the tragedy will always have questions. I know because two of the men who lost their lives were from my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's.

While I do not know the father of the young woman who drowned, I have heard him speak and wonder if his daughter could have been saved. He has said the question will remain with him forever.

Those who work in the industry refer to the “golden hour”. It is that first hour after an accident or a sinking at sea. They say if people are not spotted or rescued in that first hour, their situation will begin to deteriorate very quickly.

I have complete confidence in the capabilities, knowledge and commitment of the people who serve at the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, in Gander, Newfoundland.

Let me be clear. The purpose of my motion is to expand search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador, not to reallocate or relocate existing equipment and personnel. The intent of my motion is as it says, to establish a fully-equipped, long-range helicopter service that is closer to the offshore oil activity.

It would also be prudent of the government to upgrade the present search and rescue service in Gander to a 24/7 operation, in light of the tragedy that occurred just six short months ago.

What is required is an infusion of money to make the level of search and rescue services adequate to meet the needs that exist, not just in the fishing, export and tourism industries in Newfoundland and Labrador, but in the oil industry as well.

Response time to tragedies at sea must be improved if we are to avoid, as much as it is possible to do so, more loss of life in what can be a very dangerous working environment.

Safety, not money, must be the issue in responding to this motion.

The federal government has an 8.5% stake in Hibernia alone. So, think of the revenue that accrues to the government. It is more than enough to enhance the search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador if the government does indeed consider money to be an issue.

I am hoping that is not the case. I am hoping that the government will indeed see the common sense approach of doing what is right, under the circumstances. When I think of the families who lost loved ones, the tragedies I mentioned and, probably more important today, those who work offshore in whatever industry, I had no choice but to bring forward this motion and try once again after 24 years to get a helicopter station closer to the offshore.

We do not know, had the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger marine disaster been acted on 24 years ago, whether more recent tragedies would have had different outcomes. I prefer to not have to wonder about that should future tragedies occur. I am sure that those who work offshore feel the same way.

I am told that fear is not uncommon among those who work offshore and certainly not among their families. They are living with the fear of losing a loved one whenever they leave to board a helicopter to take them offshore. They are living with fear whenever they hear of a circumstance that could mean the loss of a life. They are living with fear when they hear and remember what has happened in other circumstances.

Unfortunately, our history has taught them to be fearful. We have an opportunity to do what is right. I would say that now is the time, but really, it is long past the right time. It must be done and it must be done now. It is imperative that the government respond to this motion in the affirmative.

Twenty-four years is a long time to wait to have search and rescue services enhanced as a result of a tragedy that took 84 lives at that time. Just six short months ago, we saw the loss of another 17 lives. How many lives must we lose? How many lives must we lose to the sea? While it is our history, it is not something that we should have to continue to experience.

The very dangerous environment of the offshore, whether one works on a fishing vessel, on a tourism boat, on a freighter importing or exporting product to or from the province, or in the oil industry offshore, is not a good environment to work in when someone is on a sea that becomes so volatile that they fear for their life. It is not a good environment when the winds are so high that one really does fear for their life.

It is important that all of these circumstances are taken into account. It is important that the government consider each and every one of them. More important, it is important that the government consider every individual who works offshore in an environment that is dangerous.

We have to respond in the affirmative. We have to recognize that this is important. We have to recognize that it is not about money. It is about safety and saving lives. Who would want to risk the loss of more life? We have an opportunity with this motion to make sure, to the extent it is humanly possible, that we never again face the tragedies that we have faced in the past number of years and, in particular, the past six months.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my hon. colleague and the obvious sincerity behind them. She said that cost is not an object, but the reality is that costs need to be factored in. I am wondering if she has costed out the bill for equipment and people that it would take to do that.

Is she aware of the service provided by Cougar Helicopters in St. John's? Is she aware of the assessment of the investigation boards that said that the crash of that helicopter was non-survivable in the first place and that it would not have mattered even if there had been aircraft overhead?

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his questions and I thank him for recognizing the sincerity of the request.

Gander is not a 24/7 operation. That is one of the issues that we face. It requires ramp-up time, and it is not a 24/7 operation. If a call goes into Gander, into 103 SAR squadron, and they are not on call or on duty, then of course they have to ramp up, so it takes time. It takes a couple of hours to get to where they need to go.

This is not a fault of the 103 SAR squadron in Gander. The problem is that it needs to be a 24/7 operation.

In terms of costing the service, my objective and my goal are to ensure that lives are not at risk. That is what this motion is about.

I want to make sure that the service is there for everyone who works offshore in whatever industry.

It is really important that we recognize that we need the service because of the tragedies that have occurred.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for an excellent speech.

I think it is about time that we took preventive action. Why do we always wait until there is a death and an accident before we do things? It seems to me that we should not be worrying about cost. We should just move ahead and get this job done.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his insight into what the situation is. He is absolutely right.

When we talk about cost, let me go back to the fact that the government has an 8.5% stake in Hibernia. If we are going to talk about money, let us look to the revenues that accrue to the province as a result of that particular benefit.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I will make this a short question indeed. I would like to thank my hon. colleague for a wonderful speech. I know she has spoken to the Mayor of Gander, as I am the member for Gander. The 103 search and rescue outfit is the greatest that this world can ever offer.

I would like for her to share her comments with the mayor of Gander as Gander has some concerns, whenever we talk about this in the House, that they will indeed lose some resources, in spite of the fact that the 103 search and rescue squadron is the busiest operation in the country.

I would like for her to share some of the comments she had with Mayor Claude Elliott.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, certainly my colleague and I have had discussions on this particular issue, and we all recognize that what we need is to enhance the search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is always an issue for a community, if there is any suggestion at any time of losing something from that community. It is important, I think, for the community to recognize, as I assured the mayor in my discussion with him last night, that this is not about reallocating or relocating. This is about additional services in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, the member would be familiar with the fact that there are often agreements in place by the service provider, in this case Cougar, to in fact provide search and rescue capacity.

Would her proposal not be in fact replicating what is already on the ground in St. John's?

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I am well aware of the service with Cougar.

My understanding is that it is not fully equipped to search and rescue standards. What we need is a helicopter that is equipped just as we would find within any search and rescue operation.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very serious matter, and I do appreciate the member's sincerity and emotion, but I cannot support the motion.

Search and Rescue Helicopter
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!