House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.

Topics

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

moved:

That the House acknowledge that Canada lags behind international search and rescue norms and urge the government to recognize the responsibility of the Canadian Forces for the protection of Canadians, and to take such measures as may be required for Canada to achieve the common international readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, from tasking to becoming airborne, in response to search and rescue incidents.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution is one which is extremely dear to my heart based upon, in part, the place in Canada from which I come and the concern that all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have about the importance of the availability of search and rescue for those who are lost at sea or in need of assistance from the Canadian Forces to protect them in circumstances of danger.

Search and rescue is a matter of great importance from coast to coast to coast. The third coast that we talk about is up in the Arctic where search and rescue is particularly difficult and important.

The motion says that the House acknowledge that Canada lags behind international search and rescue norms. That is something that I firmly believe is so and I will deal with that in my remarks. The motion urges the government to recognize the responsibility of the Canadian Forces for the protection of Canadians and to take such measures as may be required for Canada to achieve what is a common international readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, from tasking to becoming airborne, in response to search and rescue incidents. The motion is worded in that way is to recognize that we do not have the kind of international standards that exist in the U.K., the United States, Australia, Norway or other countries that are our allies and that we would look to for benchmarking of standards.

I will never forget the testimony given by Mr. Philip McDonald. He testified before the defence committee meeting in St. John's on February 1, 2011. He was a fisheries observer on board the Melina & Keith II which, at about 5:30 p.m. on September 12, 2005, slipped beneath the waves. The eight crew members on board, including Mr. McDonald, ended up in the water. Two men drowned right away. The others clung to debris during the search and rescue efforts. Mr. McDonald was rescued by a boat. He said, “As they were hauling me aboard, I heard the loud noise of the Cormorant helicopter flying over. I jumped up on the deck and told the crew of the Lady Charlotte Star there were eight of us.” Two others were rescued shortly later. Unfortunately, the other four, Ivan Dyke, Anthony Malloy, Joshua Williams and Justin Ralph, were gone. He then said, “I saw a young man clinging to a piece of styrofoam just 20 minutes before I was rescued. He could not hold on any longer.”

So Mr. McDonald saw this young man drop below the waves 20 minutes before he was rescued. The Cormorant that left Gander to come to the rescue scene was tasked at 4:50 p.m. It became airborne at 6:10 p.m., one hour and 20 minutes later. When it arrived on the scene, it was 20 minutes past this young man slipping beneath the waves.

We have a standby time in Canada for the period 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week. They call that working hours. For the rest of the time during the week, on the weekends and after 4 p.m., what the Department of National Defence repeatedly and inexplicably in its reports called the quiet hours, the response standard is two hours. Most times, search and rescue teams do better than that. However, this is the only country I am aware of that has a two hour response standard after 4 p.m., in fact a two hour response standard at all. If this helicopter had left within 30 minutes from being tasked at 4:50 p.m., it would have been there considerably earlier. In fact, it would have been there long before this young man slipped beneath the waves.

A study done in 1999 by the National Search and Rescue Secretariat of National Defence stated that it had great difficulty with the approach to search and rescue. The team studying the readiness standby posture, 2 hour standby during quiet hours and 30 minute readiness capability during working hours, said that resource availability is the primary driver that determines the standby postures for all national search and rescue program departments.

That was in 1999. In 2007, when the Transportation Safety Board did its report on the Melina & Keith II, it talked about a review of the standby search and rescue posture and quoted the report. It said that the standby postures of primary SAR resources should be determined primarily through an analysis of demand for services. It went on to say that DND policy limits the 30 minute standby position to 40 hours per week, indicating that resource availability continues to be the primary factor in determining SAR responses.

What is the demand for services? I can refer to another report by the Department of National Defence, an unclassified copy dated 2005. A table shows coverage for incidents occurring during a three year period when different times were considered. It looked at various periods of standby time, to see how many incidents were covered.

When we look at the 30 minute standby for 8 hours a day, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., only 17% of the incidents requiring search and rescue services occurred during that period. Over 80%, 83% by this calculation, of the taskings for search and rescue aircraft occurred outside the so-called working hours and during the so-called quiet hours, after 4 p.m., before 8 a.m. and on weekends. This was a fleet analysis determining what was required for fixed wing search and rescue, determining demand for services of search and rescue.

It looked at various configurations. It looked at 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 12 midnight, which would be 82% coverage. By changing the configuration and looking at how many hours of service there would be for this 30 minute standby posture, it could actually increase the coverage to 82%.

If we did what this motion called for and had a 30 minute standby posture, 24/7, we would have 100% coverage available in 30 minutes.

What does that mean? It means that we are not doing the job when it comes to making search and rescue aircraft available. I want to talk about the crews, pilots and search and rescue technicians. They are some of the bravest and most skilled people we have in our society, let alone in the military. These people risk their lives daily to save others. Unfortunately, some of them lose their lives in that task.

Just before Christmas of last year, an incident happened in the north where the search and rescue technicians parachuted in the dark through 40-kilometre per hour winds into 10-foot Arctic waves to rescue two Inuit men whose boat had become trapped in the ice while they were walrus hunting. The hunters and two technicians survived the ordeal but Sergeant Janick Gilbert did not. The tether connecting him to his life raft broke and by the time a rescue helicopter arrived five hours later he was dead.

Over the years, some of the bravest actions have been undertaken by search and rescue technicians in incidents such as this. They not only risk their life but sometimes lose it.

Other countries have greater abilities to conduct search and rescues. It is not the fault of the search and rescue technicians or the pilots that the helicopter was not there to save those who were lost on the Melina and Keith II . They were there ready to brave whatever elements existed to save the lives of those individuals. However, the resources, the system and the availability of aircraft are what determines how they are able to act.

Some international comparisons have been done, unfortunately not by the government because that does not see to be the benchmark, but by an individual by the name of Paul Clay of Seacom International Inc. who presented a report to the defence committee in St. John's. He provided information on the comparisons between Canada and other countries. In the case of Canada, it was 30 minutes by day and 120 minutes being the standard after 4:00 p.m., before 8:00 a.m. and on weekends. The government of the United Kingdom shows the ARF at 15 minutes by day and 45 minutes by night. The Republic of Ireland is 15 minutes by day, meaning 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and 45 minutes after 9:00 p.m. Australia is 30 minutes by day, 30 minutes by night and 24/7 service provided by the royal Australian air force operated by CHC. The United States coast guard is 30 minutes day or night 24/7. Mexico is 40 minutes day or night. The royal Norwegian air force in Norway provides 15 minutes coverage day or night 24/7.

When we compare Canada to the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland with 15 minutes by day until 9:00 p.m. and 45 minutes at night, the common standard is that of Australia and the United States showing 30 minutes for the U.S. coast guard, 30 minutes for Australia and then 40 minutes for Mexico. We should have that standard for our people who are lost at sea.

Whether it is off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, on the Great Lakes of Ontario, off the coast of British Columbia or in the Arctic, the fastest way to rescue somebody is to get in the air quickly. We are not doing that and that should be changed.

I call on the support of all members to ask the government to meet that international standard so that Canadians can be protected, as they should be.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I have some points of disagreement with the hon. member on the actual comparative timings that he has put forward but I will save my remarks in that regard for a speech I will be making shortly.

My question to the member is about the availability of aircraft. He has correctly and repeatedly identified aircraft as being one of the main factors determining the ability of the Canadian Forces and other responders to get to people in distress. We need many aircraft and we need them in the right places. The member opposite knows that full well.

Could the member explain to all Canadians why, if availability of aircraft is so important, his party has consistently voted against the procurement of new aircraft, whether it is helicopters, replacements for the Hercules or any number of aircraft whose role is instrumental in search and rescue across this country?

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I hope all Canadians are listening to that kind of nonsense. We are getting a little sick and tired of hearing those kinds of remarks. We voted against our own salaries. We voted against your salary, Mr. Speaker. When we vote against the budget on a matter of confidence, which is what we do, it because we do not agree with the Conservatives' approach to the whole running of government. We vote against every item in that budget. It has nothing to do with picking out a particular thing and voting against it. The government and the member, I am sorry to say, have fallen into that same trap of illogic and disrepute, frankly, by trying to accuse the opposition of not supporting things that are good for Canadians, when people know full well that we want to see search and rescue given sufficient and better priority than it has been given. Nobody puts that on the floor for a vote, except we are doing it right now and we will see how that member votes when the time comes.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that the parliamentary secretary points out is the voting records. As a matter of fact, the member for Random—Burin—St. George's presented a motion in this House asking for more resources for search and rescue in the Department of National Defence. Members will never guess what the Conservatives did. They voted against it. We can play that game all day.

However, my question for this particular member is, vis-à-vis the ground search and rescue effort across this country, which is primarily a voluntary one, would it not be ideal for the Department of National Defence, along with the Coast Guard, to up its standards so that ground search and rescue across this country, a teamwork of volunteers, could also be increased in its effectiveness?

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor who has shown great interest in this issue over the years he has been here and, of course, Gander is the centre where the 103 Squadron Cormorants are stationed.

Ground search and rescue is part of the overall system. The Department of National Defence is the lead ministry and its minister is the lead minister for the whole system of search and rescue in Canada. Yes, I believe there ought to be a more coordinated effort. We saw the recent tragic loss of Burton Winters in Makkovik, Labrador, where there seemed to have been some elements of misunderstanding about what the roles of various parties were, as well as communication difficulties and very serious bureaucratic hurdles in the way of Burton Winters being rescued more quickly.

Yes, there needs to be more effort and integrating some of these services in a better way should also be a priority. However, we need to start by getting a helicopter or a Hercules in the air within 30 minutes to get to the place where the help is needed.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House on behalf of the government to respond to the motion in question and to the speech just made by the member opposite.

Unfortunately, the government will not be able to support the motion for reasons that I will outline at some length. However, it is principally because we do not agree with its premises and we do not agree with its conclusions.

On the premises, we do not agree that Canada lags behind international search and rescue norms. I must take this opportunity to defend not only the Canadian Forces and other Government of Canada agencies and departments involved in search and rescue, but also the provinces, territories, volunteers and municipal governments, all of whom play an outstanding role in meeting the very highest standards of response to search and rescue across the country. Just by the very phrasing of the motion, the member opposite has implied that somehow not just the Government of Canada, but all of those private, volunteer, civilian responders to search and rescue incidents across the country in every province and every territory are somehow lagging behind. We simply reject that premise.

We also do not think it is the place of the House, this member, or other members to determine what the actual response times of the Canadian Forces, or any other body, ought to be on these matters. The House has never set those standards in the past.

I see some members opposite expressing disbelief. They clearly have not read into this file. They clearly have not understood the proud history of search and rescue in this country and they clearly have not understood how other countries determine these things. It is not a matter for Parliament. In the case of the Canadian Forces, the standards are set by the Canadian Forces in accordance with their operational determinations on the basis of their resource base, and that is the way it should be. That is a best practice not just in Canada but around the world. It is one for which our friends and allies looked to Canada, and continue to look to Canada, for leadership and not for political interference in these matters.

Therefore, we will not be supporting the motion because it is both misleading and inaccurate. It is inaccurate because it suggests that a 30-minute response posture is prescribed by international search and rescue standards; it is not. It is misleading because it seems to imply that instituting a readiness standard of 30 minutes for the Canadian Forces would significantly improve the service provided to Canadians on the basis of the resource base the Canadian Forces have and on the budget they have, which it would not.

I believe it is important that I set the record straight on these two points today so that we can have a properly informed debate about Canada’s search and rescue services and how government investments can make the most meaningful contribution to their continued strength and improvement.

I would take this moment to add that we are engaged with the Canadian Forces in a constant campaign to improve service. A new helicopter was added in Goose Bay recently. The member opposite did not mention that. In the wake of the very unfortunate incident recently in Makkovik, there was a review, led by the Chief of the Defence Staff, which has resulted in an improvement to procedures in response to those very critical search and rescue incidents in the Arctic.

With respect to international search and rescue standards, Canada is a signatory to several search and rescue treaties: the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue. Together these treaties set a framework for search and rescue. None of them has a mandate of a 30-minute response posture. That is because the international community recognizes that geography, varying characteristics of different countries, and the varying institutional structures of different countries dictate that each one must design a search and rescue system tailored to its own needs.

For example, it would be of little use to mandate exactly the same kind of search and rescue system for both a small, evenly populated European country with little or no coastline and for a country as huge as ours—surrounded by three oceans and with a population dispersed over vast distances.

Canada has built up its own traditions, its own institutional framework, its own best practices in the area of search and rescue, and they suit Canada. That is why it is a mistake to suggest that Canada lags behind some kind of international standard. In fact, it is even a mistake to suggest that other countries like Canada or remotely similar to Canada maintain a 30-minute response posture.

Of course, no country has exactly the same ties or features as we do. No country but ours has the longest coastline. No country has 18 million square kilometres of search and rescue responsibility.

In the case of Australia, for example, I must differ with the member opposite. Australia, another large country with long coastlines and a thinly dispersed population, has a military fixed-wing response posture of between three and 12 hours for search and rescue. That was not the kind of fact that the member opposite put before us. He put a different fact forward, but I think if he looked to military fixed-wing search and rescue response times from Australia, he would find the standard is much lower, and much longer than it is for Canada.

Contrary to what this motion suggests, it is generally accepted that each nation must design a search and rescue system that is uniquely tailored to its own needs and utilizes available resources in the way that best benefits its population. Canada has just such a system—one that serves Canadians extremely well.

And I would be happy to discuss the Canadian Forces’ role in this system, as well as why a move to a continuous 30-minute response posture is not in our country’s best interest.

When we talk about a response posture, we are referring to the maximum timeframe in which Canadian Forces can become airborne after being tasked. When it comes to search and rescue, Canadian Forces have two different postures: from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, the posture is 30 minutes; after hours, at night or on the weekend, the response posture is two hours.

However, I want to make absolutely clear that regardless of their response posture, regardless of whether they are on base or at home, crews always respond immediately when a call comes. They do everything they can to get out the door and off the ground as quickly and effectively as they can.

During regular business hours, takeoff is routinely accomplished within 30 minutes, and response time is even better if the crew already happens to be in the air when the call comes in. After hours, Canadian Forces crews become airborne, on average, just over 60 minutes after the call comes in.

That is an impressive feat when you consider that they must first get to the base, evaluate mission requirements against prevailing conditions, start their aircraft and manoeuvre for departure.

And response time is even quicker during peak periods—such as periods of high-intensity seasonal fishing—when crews may be kept on base even in the evenings and on weekends.

When it comes to mobilizing a search and rescue response, the actual difference between the 30-minute response posture and the two-hour response posture is usually measured in minutes, not hours.

When we consider the vastness of Canada's area of responsibility as well as the complexity of our terrain and the unpredictability of our weather, studies have shown that the significance of these minutes usually pales in comparison to the significance of other factors that can influence mission outcome, such as the time between an emergency situation arising and the appropriate authorities being notified, the time it takes to cover the significant distance—which is often a factor—between the nearest base and the site of the emergency and the time it takes to find and recover the people in distress, which is often no easy task.

We can all mention any number of incidents in which an earlier response time might have changed the outcome or a tragedy could have been avoided if there had been a helicopter in another part of the country closer to the zone of the incident, but the disposition of the resources we have is on the basis of a statistical base that extends over years, decades, and indeed even centuries.

Some of these factors—such as the speed of notification and the mobility of our assets—can be influenced to one extent or another. Others—such as the weather or the characteristics of our Canadian landscape—cannot.

Members of our SAR crews, our SAR techs, want to save each and every individual who needs their help, and in the vast majority of cases they do just that.

Military assets are deployed for about 1,100 of the approximately 9,000 search and rescue incidents reported annually in Canada—meaning a minority, the more serious ones—but they help to save an average of 1,200 lives every year.

I also know that our SAR techs deeply regret those rare instances when weather, distance or a delay in notification prevents them from getting there in time.

But rather than focusing on the relatively narrow issue of response posture, as recommended by the motion before this House, we want to invest public resources where they will have the greatest possible impact on the safety and survival of Canadians.

Our latest plan is to acquire a new fleet of fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, as promised in the Canada first strategy. We are supporting the Canadian Forces in deepening their partnerships with other departments at all levels, including federal, provincial and territorial. We are also strengthening our international search and rescue partnerships, particularly in the north, through joint initiatives like the Arctic search and rescue agreement that was signed under this government in 2011.

A huge amount of work happens every day to improve the effectiveness of search and rescue resources in this country. Unfortunately, this motion is not a contribution to that effort.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to address some of the concerns that were just brought up. Actually, I am somewhat bemused by the comment that we should not debate the response time issue here because the member thinks perhaps we are not qualified or that this is not the place to do it.

I first came to this House in 2004 and I remember the debate about the Coast Guard. I am sure my hon. colleague for St. John's East will remember it. The Conservatives complained in the House for days on end about the fact that there was no fuel available for some of the Coast Guard ships in St. John's. The bureaucrats later said that it was not true, yet it was made a point of debate in this House. At some point the Conservatives will start practising what they used to preach.

Here we find ourselves in this debate. Why can we not debate response times? Why can this country not have a discussion about the resources that we have in the Department of National Defence and be informed about how we go about doing this?

I find it ironic on several levels. Another level is the huge announcement about the F-35 and how we are going to deal with this situation with the stealth fighters. While the Conservatives say that they have a Canada first defence policy, the F-35s get the attention but the fixed-wing search and rescue is floundering. Where is it going? What will it be? Who is going to get this contract? Will the Conservative put out a tender for this aircraft? They are flying 50-year-old airplanes on the west coast.

I think this is a good debate. The Conservatives talk about the F-35s and say that they have a Canada first defence policy; I cannot think of a greater Canada first defence policy than what we are talking about here today, which is search and rescue.

The Conservatives have signed international protocols. Just the other day there was an announcement that there was a new initiatives fund for ground search and rescue, which is a fund that was established many years ago. Why can we not debate this?

Perhaps this is a bold statement on my part, but Newfoundlanders and Labradorians now probably know more about the minutiae of search and rescue in this country than any other province and perhaps any other jurisdiction around the world. Why? It is because it is an issue. The Conservatives say in this House that we are not going to debate it. They complain that the NDP vote against defence policies, yet they do not even want to talk about it. It is absolutely ridiculous. Why can this House not be a place of discourse, a place to be informed about how it works?

The member had a point when talked about response times. He said it is just over 60 minutes on the weekend; it is actually less than that, at just over 50 minutes, and on weekdays the response time is just over 20 minutes. That is the result of good people on the ground and in the air. However, we are talking about the policy of 30 minutes, 24/7. That is our debate. To say that we are not allowed to or should not be talking about it is disgraceful to anybody involved in this issue.

We have some of the best search and rescue people in the world. There are just over 100 Cormorant helicopters around the world, and nobody uses these helicopters the way Canadians do. We are flying these things more than any other jurisdiction around the world, and it is because of our people who do this.

When I first got elected in 2004, there was an accident involving the Ryan's Commander. There was one individual, and I will not say his name, but he is currently a search and rescue technician, and this was one of his first missions out. He was lowered down from the wire to get to the ship when all of a sudden the wind came up; he was smacked against the boat and found himself floundering in the water. Can we imagine being lowered in the dark with just one spotlight from a helicopter, waves two or three storeys high, just dangling there, and all of a sudden becoming untethered and landing in the North Atlantic?

I bring that up because, my goodness, this is the perfect place to discuss what these people do. This is a question of resources. If the Conservatives want a Canada first defence policy, then they should make it about this country. They should make it about Canada first.

When we talk about a Canada first defence policy, there is no better example than our own search and rescue. We have the largest coastline in the world, and the biggest areas; there is no doubt about it. We have bases across the country, and now we require assets in the north as well. We require fixed-wing search and rescue. All of this comes down to one thing: to be ready and to be available.

That discussion has to take place right here, at the highest level, in order for us to understand its importance and how it works. We want Canadians to believe in a Canada first defence policy and to believe in better search and rescue for all citizens across this country, whether they live in the mountains, whether they live inland or on the lakes, or whether they live beside the North Atlantic or the North Pacific. If we are going to make this a better system for them, then let us discuss what kind of resources they need. We need to ask Canadians what they believe to be the number one priority in defence.

For the last six years I have argued that I do not think that search and rescue has been the priority, and that is a shame. This fixed-wing search and rescue issue has gone back and forth between departments and cabinet discussion here and there. Unfortunately, it seems to be a political football getting thrown back and forth, a hot potato that nobody wants to deal with.

We are talking about search and rescue. It is the very essence of the motion that my hon. colleague has brought to the House today. He and I and many people in the House have talked about this for years, and it is not just we who have been talking about it. I remember former NDP member Catherine Bell, from the Comox area; she was very passionate about search and rescue. The thing about search and rescue was that we all had a learning experience from it, and because we discussed it so much, we are having an informed debate.

Let us look at another element of search and rescue readiness: crew hours. Crews can be out on the job for a maximum of 15 hours, and then it has to come down. They have to be off the job. That element has not been addressed here, but we have to look at it in order to create a 30-minute readiness standard, 24/7.

We should be looking at best practices in other countries. Both of my colleagues brought up several illustrations. Why can we not stand in the House and talk about what those countries do best and how we can become better as a result?

We have talked about the search and rescue system in the Department of National Defence, but what about the Coast Guard as well? The government wants to trim the deficit; it wants to be more cost-efficient, as Conservative members would say. We have proven to them time and time again that closing down the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's is not the way to do it. A whole host of experts have told the government that if it wants to create efficiencies, that is not the way to go about it.

I ask my hon. colleague here in the House: was he aware that this was being considered? I certainly was not. I went with Conservative colleagues, NDP colleagues and the Bloc to St. John's to have a look at the sub-centre, and it was wonderful. Everybody loved the sub-centre. It was a great asset and it was doing wonderful work. Then, bang; down came the hammer, and it was gone.

Like many people, I was shocked. Where was the discussion then? Is that what this is about? The government is going to put resources here and will not have a discussion about it. All of a sudden the government is making this decision, even though the experts are telling it that it is probably not such a good idea, given the history of search and rescue on the east coast and given the history of the Coast Guard, DND and ground search and rescue with a team of volunteers.

I am disappointed, but I support the motion. If it furthers the debate, then so be it. If that is all it does, rescue is still going to be needed in this country.

I would tell my Conservative colleagues that if they are serious about a Canada first defence policy, then they should get on board and vote for the motion. Let us go forward and have a decent debate in the House, as we have been doing.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I stand with my colleague, the hon. member for St. John's East, in support of Motion No. 314.

Canada does indeed lag behind international search and rescue norms. That is an indisputable fact. I urge the federal government to do what it takes to achieve the international readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, from tasking one of the military's Cormorant helicopters to becoming airborne. In other words, 30 minutes, wheels up, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a search and rescue response time of 30 minutes around the clock.

As it stands, the wheels up response time for the military's search and rescue helicopters, the Cormorants that operate across the country, including out of Gander in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, are twofold, as we have already heard. Between Monday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the wheels up response time is 30 minutes, but after 4 p.m. and on weekends and during holidays, the wheels up response time is 2 hours.

That is right, there is a search and rescue response time of two hours during evenings and on weekends and during holidays. Just imagine fire departments around the country operating with one response time during the day and another during evenings and on weekends. Canadians would not have it because it would make no sense. Lives would be put at risk and people would most certainly die.

A two-tier response time would not cut it in terms of fire on land, and a two-tier response time does not cut it in the North Atlantic where the survival time in the absence of a survival suit is measured in minutes.

Let us make no mistake and let there be no doubt, the Canadian military's two-tier search and rescue response time, inadequate search and rescue response time, has cost lives. It has cost the lives of Newfoundland and Labrador mariners and will cost even more lives if the search and rescue response time is not changed.

I might add that the Canadian Coast Guard has a 24-hour response time for its vessels of 30 minutes around the clock.

Before I became a member of Parliament, about one year ago today, I was a journalist. I was a reporter, a columnist and a newspaper editor. I know my way around a news story.

In September 2005, I was the editor in chief of a weekly provincial newspaper called The Independent, when a fishing boat went down, which happens, I am sorry to report, quite often where I come from. The Melina & Keith II, as the hon. member for St. John's East mentioned earlier, sank off Cape Bonavista on September 12, 2005, while fishing for turbot and shrimp. What struck me about the story from the get-go, what set off my spider sense as a newspaper editor, was the search and rescue response time. Therefore, I assigned a team of reporters to the story of the Melina & Keith II.

What we learned, after weeks of investigation, was shocking. Cutting to the chase, it took the National Defence Cormorant helicopters operating out of Gander's 103 Search and Rescue squadron approximately three hours and eight minutes, after the capsized vessel was located, to arrive on scene. In that three hours and eight minutes, four of the eight fishermen who were reportedly alive when the fishing boat went down had died. Four men, half the crew, died because search and rescue did not get there quick enough.

I am not sure if Canadians watching CPAC know this, but we are not allowed to use props when we give speeches in the House of Commons, which is too bad. I would like to show Canadians the front page picture, published in The Independent newspaper, of one of the survivors of the Melina & Keith II. The picture was of survivor Bernard Dyke who was 17 years old at the time when the ship went down. It was only his third trip to sea at that point. He was the youngest crewman on board. He is as fresh-faced in that picture as can be imagined. He was just a teenager to look at, but with a vacant look in his eyes, a vacant look that the photographer for The Independent captured in that front page picture.

Bernard Dyke of Eastport, Bonavista Bay survived after spending more than four hours in the North Atlantic waiting to be rescued. As the hon. member for St. John's East mentioned, four others were lost: Ivan Dyke, Justin Ralph, Anthony Malloy and Joshua Williams. Dressed only in a T-shirt and underwear, Dyke survived by clinging to an overturned boat. He held tightly to a piece of rope, ready to lash himself to the boat if need be, so his mother would at least have his body. This is what went through his mind.

Bernard Dyke told his story to The Independent. The boat went down in under a minute, just enough time to get out a mayday, but the search and rescue did not come nearly quickly enough. All eight crewmen were reportedly alive when the boat went down, although only the captain had on a survival suit. The men survived the first couple of hours sitting on the bottom of the overturned vessel. When the boat finally went down, the men survived in the water for another two hours or so by holding onto the overturned aluminum boat, but they did not all survive. Bernard Dyke watched as his friends and crewmen slowly floated away, as he described it, because the search and rescue did not come quickly enough.

A policy of a 30 minute wheels up during the day and a 2 hour wheel sup on evenings, weekends and holidays is not good enough, no matter what the Conservatives say. It is it not good enough for Bernard Dyke, not good enough for the four crewmen of the Melina & Keith II who were lost and not good enough for provinces like mine, Newfoundland and Labrador, where people live and die by the sea. The sinking of the Melina & Keith II is but one example of the inadequacies of the military search and rescue response.

The CBC's The Fifth Estate carried out a recent investigation into the death of 14-year-old Burton Winters of Makkovik, Labrador. The search and rescue did not come quickly enough for young Burton either, but that is another heart-wrenching story about another needless death, the death of a teenager who walked 19 kilometres before he lay down on the ice and died because help did not come soon enough.

According to The Fifth Estate's investigation, Newfoundland and Labrador is ground zero for search and rescue in Atlantic Canada. Most times, there are happy endings, but not all times. Each year, there are new examples of search and rescue gone wrong. Each year there are new example of people who perished, while waiting for search and rescue that never came. According to The Fifth Estate, there have been nine cases in the last eight years alone where people died waiting for search and rescue. How many lost lives will it take for the Conservative government to accept the fact that search and rescue response as it stands is not good enough? We will probably get to that number soon enough, the number of people who die because of inadequate search and rescue response.

This is another interesting fact. The survival odds in the North Atlantic are better for an offshore oil worker than for a fisherman. It is true. Cougar Helicopters, which service the oil industry off Newfoundland and Labrador, recently implemented a wheels up search and rescue response time of 20 minutes around the clock. As I have mentioned before in the House of Commons, when it comes to survival time in the North Atlantic, there is no difference between a fisherman and an offshore oil worker. The survival time is the same. Why then the two-tier response? It is not good enough.

How does the Canadian military's search and rescue response compare to other countries? The member for St. John's East mentioned this earlier as well. It is far behind. According to a report prepared for a House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence, Canada's SAR response posture places last in comparison to Australia, Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States. That is not good enough and it has to change, no matter what we hear from the Conservatives.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for St. John's East for providing me with this opportunity to express my esteem for search and rescue services. I also congratulate him on his re-elevation to defence critic. As a member of the national defence committee, I look forward to working with him again.

Coming from British Columbia, I have a unique appreciation of the reliability and efficiency of this service and of the extraordinary work of all those who contribute to it, whether professional or volunteer, in uniform or not.

I will take a moment to thank the RCMP, Kent Harrison Search and Rescue and Chilliwack Search and Rescue which just yesterday participated in a very difficult, very dangerous recovery effort after a tragic hang gliding accident in my riding of Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon.

We western Canadians are blessed with a natural environment of exceptional beauty. Enjoying the great outdoors has become a key part of our lifestyle and identity. Western Canada has also become a prime destination for visitors from all over the country and from abroad who want to take advantage of the unparalleled recreational opportunities that we have to offer, activities like skiing, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking or camping, to name just a few. However, while our lakes, rivers, forests, mountains, coastlines and island chains are among the most spectacular in the world, they are not without dangers. This is something that we can easily forget.

We sometimes also forget that our environment can make search and rescue operations particularly challenging. Fortunately, we can rely upon the dedication and expertise of search and rescue professionals. such as the two Canadian Forces SAR techs from 442 Squadron in Comox who parachuted out of a CC-115 to a plane crash site 130 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, B.C. on January 22. Because of their actions and the response of the 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, all four occupants of the aircraft were found alive.

Not all incidents are that extreme, but I think all of us from the west can think of many incidents where search and rescue services were called upon. Because of that, we appreciate the importance of ensuring the quality of these services. Therefore, I fully understand and share the desire of the hon. member for St. John's East to provide Canadians with the best system of search and rescue services possible.

However, I cannot support the motion that we are debating today. Focusing uniquely on the issue of Canadian Forces' response posture does not accurately reflect the nature of Canada's search and rescue system, nor the specific needs of Canadians.

We have already heard that there is no mandated international norm for response posture. Focusing solely on the Canadian Forces would also be a mistake because they are only one part of a larger system. What really matters to this government, and what I believe matters to Canadians, is having a search and rescue service that is well-suited to the specific challenges of our Canadian environment.

Therefore, in taking part in this debate today, I will speak to some of those particular challenges as well as help Canada's current search and rescue system do a good job of addressing them.

Canada is a uniquely challenging environment for search and rescue. As we all know, we live in an extremely vast country, with a land mass of almost 10 million square kilometres and the world's longest coastline. However, Canada's area of responsibility for search and rescue extends even further than that, totalling approximately 18 million square kilometres when the ocean regions for which we are responsible are included. Within this space, a relatively small population is dispersed over great distances. Needless to say, a country as vast as ours contains enormous geographical diversity.

What is more, the Canadian climate can be very hostile, with temperatures ranging from 35°C to -50.

Taken together, all of these characteristics make Canada unique in the world when it comes to search and rescue and to inherent challenges of trying to reach people in distress, of trying to cover vast distances quickly and then to locating and assisting people in hard to reach places and often under difficult conditions.

Such a unique environment calls for an equally unique search and rescue system. Fortunately, Canada has just such a system, one that is specifically tailored to meet the needs of Canadians and one that is very successful at quickly responding to emergencies and saving lives, at no cost to the user, I should add.

I will now take a few moments to explain that system so as to ensure the motion before the House is taken in the proper context.

Given the particular conditions and challenges of our country that I have just described, no single organization, not even one as versatile and responsive as the Canadian Forces, could possibly cover every inch of our territory all of the time.

Canada's search and rescue system is based on extensive collaboration and co-operation between numerous different departments, agencies, levels of government and other actors. This includes other federal departments and agencies, provincial and territorial governments, municipal and local organizations, commercial companies and volunteer organizations.

Co-operation among these various stakeholders helps ensure that, in every part of the country, local knowledge and expertise can be harnessed in support of search and rescue efforts. It also ensures that people and resources already in the area can provide as fast and effective a response as possible.

Of course, none of these organizations can operate in isolation. Instead, they work together and support one another within the framework of our comprehensive and collaborative approach. Within this context, the Canadian Forces play a crucial role in responding to many different emergencies but are by no means the only provider of search and rescue services. Together with the Canadian Coast Guard, they coordinate the country's response to air and sea incidents by operating the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres in Victoria, Trenton and Halifax. With respect to the provision of air search and rescue services, the Canadian Forces have primary responsibility in cases of downed aircraft and are responsible for providing air support to the Canadian Coast Guard in emergencies at sea.

However, the response to search and rescue incidents on land is different. In cases of ground emergencies, provincial or territorial governments lead the response, including the provision of air services, while the Canadian Forces' role is solely to provide assistance if and when it is requested by the local authorities. It makes perfect sense to rely primarily on local organizations, police forces, volunteer associations, commercial companies et cetera in cases of ground SAR because they have the knowledge, the resources, the expertise and the experience required to respond in the fastest, most appropriate way.

Of the approximately 9,000 search and rescue incidents reported annually in Canada, military assets are deployed for approximately 1,100 and help to save an average of 1,200 lives each year. However, operational statistics only tell part of the story when it comes to this government's commitment to search and rescue. Beyond the responses themselves, the Department of National Defence and, indeed, the government more broadly are actively engaged on a number of fronts to help improve the preparation and coordination of stakeholders as well as the availability of information and public education about the dangers of the Canadian environment.

Each year, the government invests millions through the SAR new initiatives fund to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, economy and innovation of search and rescue response and prevention activities across Canada. On the international stage, Canada also continues to work with like-minded nations to discuss and review search and rescue efforts. For example, last year we organized and hosted the first ever gathering of specialists from eight Arctic Council nations, in Whitehorse. This year, we welcomed the defence chiefs of those same countries, in Goose Bay, to encourage closer co-operation in dealing with emergencies in the Arctic.

Through all of these programs and initiatives, the government is consistently taking steps to improve the search and rescue service in Canada not just by improving response times but also by improving the coordination and co-operation of stakeholders, by helping develop new technologies and practices so that authorities can be notified of emergencies faster and, perhaps most importantly of all, by providing funding to improve the availability of information and public education on the hazards of our Canadian environment so that fewer of these emergencies occur in the first place. We do all of this because we are committed to the quality of our search and rescue system.

Although I am happy to see that the opposition shares in this commitment, I cannot support the motion before us today.

For the reasons I have just described, I ask the opposition to expand its perspective beyond the narrow issue of military response postures to the broader realities of search and rescue in Canada and to support this government in continuing to find ways to invest our resources where they can make a real difference in the safety and survival of Canadians.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the motion is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government, and specifically the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the Treasury Board, has failed to learn the painful lessons from Walkerton which proved that cuts to essential government services protecting the health and safety of Canadians are reckless and can cause Canadians to lose their lives; and further, that the House condemn the government for introducing a budget that will repeat the mistakes of the past and put Canadians in danger by reducing food inspection, search and rescue operations, and slashing environmental protections, and call on the government to reverse these positions.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Wascana.

It is well known that the Conservative movement around the world bases its policy prescriptions on several key ideas, one of which is deregulation and the other of which is less government spending. I think it is fair to say that this government has been captured by this idea, as was the Harris government in Ontario.

It is important for the House to take the opportunity to understand, in the aftermath of the budget, the risks involved in following this ideology in a very stubborn way, such as we are seeing from the government.

It is ironic and nevertheless appropriate for this debate for us to point out that three of the senior ministers in the government were also senior ministers in the Harris government. It was during the time of that government in the year 2000 that there was an E. coli outbreak in the water supply of the community of Walkerton in the province, which led to the death of seven people, to 2,300 people falling ill and to the fact that even to this day some people are feeling the continuing effects of the E. coli outbreak.

As a result of that terrible series of events, the government of Ontario established a royal commission that was led by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor. Mr. Justice O'Connor found that, although one could point to individuals who had clearly failed to do their job, and subsequent charges were laid against those people, nevertheless there were broader responsibilities that needed to be established and spoken about.

In particular, Mr. Justice O'Connor found, and I am quoting from page 27 of his report where he said:

I am satisfied that a properly structured and administered inspections program would have discovered, before the May 2000 outbreak, both the vulnerability of Well 5...

which was the well in question that was contaminated

...and the PUC's unacceptable chlorination and monitoring practices. Had these problems been uncovered, steps could have been taken to address them, and thus to either prevent the outbreak or substantially reduce its scope.

He also concluded on page 30 of the report:

I am satisfied that if the MOE had adequately fulfilled its regulatory and over-sight role, the tragedy in Walkerton would have been prevented (by the installation of continuous monitors) or at least significantly reduced in scope.

In the course of his inquiry, Mr. Justice O'Connor pointed out the extent to which dramatic cuts were made in the Ministry of the Environment in the years after 1995, cuts that followed a period of restraint, admittedly, between 1990 and 1995, but were nevertheless a shift in philosophy.

There was a decision in 1996 to privatize the laboratory system, which would assess the quality of water, and continuing refusal of the government to implement a regulation that was suggested over and over again by several, including the Environment Commissioner of Ontario in 1996, that at the very least the private laboratories had the obligation to inform and to provide notice to the public health officer whenever there was a problem.

As it stood at that time, the only requirement was that the laboratories had to tell the very officials who were sending them the information.

What is interesting as well is that at the hearing, during the inquiry, the premier of the day, Mr. Harris, testified. He said:

I'm in a position to say, that at no time was any action taken by our government that I believe either jeopardized the health or safety of the people of this province or of Walkerton. I am in a position to say that.

He went on to say:

At...no time would we have approved or would I have approved, and I...don't believe our government would have approved, I don't know anybody that would, any reductions that would have jeopardized either the environment or public safety.

That is precisely what one would expect the premier to have said. If I may say so, it is precisely what we hear from ministers opposite when we challenge them with respect to the regulation of the food system and when we challenge them with respect to the changes in the search and rescue operations that are being shifted away from those areas that are closest to and best able to provide immediate response, to more centralized operations in Halifax and Trenton. Similarly, we hear from the Department of the Environment that the changes it is making are in fact going to improve the quality of the environment.

Perhaps we can be forgiven for taking with more than a grain of salt, but perhaps with several canisters, the comments we hear from members opposite when they say they can make these changes and they will have no deleterious effects, no negative impact on the health and safety of Canadians.

We do not have to go to other countries to find out what happens when deregulation goes too far. We do not have to go to other countries to find out what happens when the cuts in public expenditure, or when the reduction in the number of inspectors, or when the cuts in the numbers of people who are involved in an oversight and regulatory role, in fact, lead to loss of life. We do not have to go to the terrible examples around the world where regulatory failure has resulted in loss of life. We only have to go to Canada. We only have to go to the province of Ontario.

We do not have to look elsewhere to see negative outcomes and even loss of life. People have gotten sick not for a certain period of time, but for their whole lives because the regulatory system failed and cuts had a direct impact on their health. Of course, every time governments make those kinds of cuts, they will tell us that there will be no impact. They will keep saying that there will be no impact on the health and safety of Canadians.

We on this side are not simply skeptical. We are saying to at least let us learn the lessons of our own history. Let us at least understand that the kind of ideology that is rooted in this government is the same ideology that was rooted in the government of Ontario in the years 1995 to 2003 and that the consequence of that ideology had a significant impact on what really happened. People lost their lives. People died. People got very sick.

It is no exaggeration for us to say this: Let no one in Canada say that this Parliament did not warn the Government of Canada that the path it is taking us down on food inspection, on environmental protection and on search and rescue is a path that will have a direct impact on the real safety and security of Canadians, which is after all the fundamental purpose and objective of every government, regardless of its ideology.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the leader of the Liberal Party for his commentary, reminding us of some very important history in the province of Ontario and the potential impact of the budget that the government has brought in recently.

I would also like to ask him if he thinks, as part of that history lesson, that we can also draw a line back to the 1995 Liberal budget that drastically cut transfers to the provinces and then led many provinces to try to balance their books by cutting programs, such as the ones around water safety that he described? Does he also draw a link to past federal Liberal budgets?

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have very clear memories of that budget as I was premier of Ontario at the time that it was introduced.

However, it is important to recognize that different provinces managed those cuts in different ways. Not every province decided to cut its welfare benefits by 22%. Not every government, on the immediate impact of the federal transfer cuts, decided to cut its own revenues by cutting taxes saying that the approach that was being taken was being put in place.

I am sure the hon. member will recognize that every government in the country, in the years between 1990 and 1995, had to make some very tough decisions about how to deal with the deficit. We had to make them in Ontario and other provinces had to make them. The federal government did as well. I can say that at the time I did not relish the changes that were brought about in the 1995 Liberal budget but I think everyone recognizes that how each province responded to those was a matter of choice for those provinces.

The argument that one might hear from the Conservatives in Ontario, that the devil made me do it, is a completely nonsensical argument. It did not have a similar impact in other provinces. We did not have a similar collapse of the regulatory regime in other provinces that we had in Ontario.

What we have in Canada today, however, is a direct imitation of that approach and that philosophy, which is why we are pointing out the risks and dangers of it.

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham
Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the third party talks about the devil making us do it. Actually, it was not the devil who made us do it. It was a terrible NDP government from 1990 to 1995, which the leader of the Liberal Party led, that forced a lot of changes in the province of Ontario. That, combined with an awful federal Liberal government that unilaterally cut $25 billion in transfers for health and social programs, was a big problem.

That member seems to forget that when he left office in the province of Ontario, it was spending $1 million more an hour than it was taking in, more than a million people were on welfare and hope and opportunity had been lost in the province. We can combine that with a federal Liberal government that had just come through a decade of darkness or was in the midst of a decade of darkness to our military. Is the Liberal Party not just doing the same thing it did on H1N1, which is making people frightened for no reason whatsoever?

Why will the Liberals not simply support this government and all of the good measures that we have brought in in this budget, whether it be the record investments in health care, the investments in the armed forces, the investments we making across the economy to bring the budget back into balance, which will continue to protect the Canadian taxpayers, and all the measures that we are doing? Why will they not support us instead of spreading—

Opposition Motion—Health and safety of Canadians
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. leader of the Liberal Party.