House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-38.

Topics

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand and speak in this debate. Being from Nova Scotia, I can appreciate the importance of having a solid and responsive search and rescue system in Canada. Many Atlantic Canadians have traditionally made their living from the sea, whether fishing or depending on it for our imports and our exports.

While we have a love for the sea, we also have a high degree of respect for the dangers that the sea brings. The sea is responsible for countless incidents every year, and having a search and rescue system that can come to the aid of Canadians during these incidents is crucial.

So far in this debate we have heard about how in Canada search and rescue relies on all levels of government and volunteer organization to work together in the best interests of Canadians. We have heard how the Canadian Forces are just one component of this system, albeit a crucially important one. We also have debated the relative merits of diverting more of our search and rescue resources toward establishing a continuous 24/7 readiness posture for Canadian Forces search and rescue crews of 30 minutes from notification to liftoff.

The government does not support this for the reasons we have already stated in the debate. In rising today, I will add to this debate by highlighting some of the outstanding expertise and capabilities that the Canadian Forces bring to search and rescue in Canada, capabilities that are deployed in more than a thousand search and rescue calls each and every year, capabilities that provide assistance to three or four people in distress each day in this vast and rugged country, including a total of more than 200 people since the beginning of this year alone. This so we might better appreciate the impressive quality of the search and rescue system that we already have in Canada.

Within Canada's search and rescue system, the Canadian Forces have a specific role to play. It operates the joint rescue coordination centres of Victoria, Trenton and Halifax. It monitors distress signals and, along with the Canadian Coast Guard, it coordinates the national response to air and sea incidents. Under search and rescue's mandate, our military also plans and prepares to respond to major air disasters taking place anywhere in Canada.

This means, following a plane crash, and immediate search and rescue response should an event be declared a major air disaster, but the Canadian Forces has the responsibility to deploy additional search and rescue technicians and survival equipment and logistics and medical personnel.

The unique specializations and capabilities of the Canadian Forces which it brings to the table allows it to assist when possible with missions within provincial or municipal responsibilities as well. These include medical evacuation or searches for lost persons. The bottom line is that when and where it is needed, the Canadian Forces always do its best to respond whenever and wherever it can.

Such was the case on April 15, 2011, when Canadian Forces crews from Greenwood and Gander flew more than 2,400 kilometres to Baffin Island aboard a CC-130 Hercules and a CH-149 Cormorant to help rescue two hikers, one of whom had fallen into a crevasse and was in need of immediate medical attention.

More recently, on March 27 when the Greenwood search and rescue crews were called on two different incidents over the span of a few hours. First, in support of the province of Nova Scotia, five fishermen were hoisted out of the Great Pubnico Lake after their 14-foot boat capsized. Only a few hours later, three people were hoisted off a disabled sailing vessel off Cape Sable Island to a Cormorant in 11 metre seas. This level of service is clearly outstanding and I believe it deserves the pride and support of all Canadians.

The location of search and rescue bases in CFB Comox, Winnipeg, Trenton, Greenwood and Gander is based on decades of historical data that demonstrate that these areas are central to approximately 90% of search and rescue incidents. Canadian Forces crews can respond with Hercules and Buffalo aircraft that provide them the reach, the endurance and the speed to conduct searches for hours over Canada's vast search and rescue area of responsibility.

We also have a dedicated fleet of Cormorant and Griffin helicopters that have the versatility and stability required for critical hoisting operations. These air assets are by no means all the Canadian Forces has to offer. When the Canadian Forces respond to a search and rescue incident, every one of its resources on every base on this country is a potentially deployable asset. The Canadian Forces will send its most appropriate capability that can get there the fastest.

Of all of the search and rescue capabilities at the Canadian Forces' disposal, the most valuable and most impressive is the search and rescue technician, better known as the SAR tech. The SAR techs are trained to provide on-site, life-saving medical help and have an impressive range of professional capabilities. They are experts in trauma life support, land and sea survival, Arctic rescue, parachuting, diving, mountain climbing and rappelling. They do not hesitate to put their own lives in danger to save others.

These men and women are professional heroes in Canada and on an average day these SAR techs, along with an aircrew, deploy as many as three or four search and rescue missions. This means that, at this very moment, a crew is likely in the air on its way to provide help to someone in need somewhere in Canada right now.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, their service sometimes comes at a price. Such was the case in October 2011 when two hunters were stranded in a life raft in the Arctic waters off of Igloolik. Three search and rescue technicians parachuted out of a CC-130 Hercules into the freezing waters of Canada's Arctic to help the two semi-conscious men.

Sergeant Janick Gilbert, one of the SAR technicians, lost his life that day responding to that call. Sadly, this is not an isolated event. In the last 25 years, 34 SAR members and volunteers have given their lives in their quest to save others.

The government fully recognizes the inherent risks of the search and rescue profession, just as it does all aspects of military service. For this reason, we are committed to working with members of the Canadian Forces to provide them with whatever tools and support they need to strengthen their search and rescue capabilities so that they can both succeed in their missions and return home to their families safely.

For example, in one of the most challenging areas of the country, the Arctic, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to enhance the reach and responsiveness of the Canadians Forces, such as the pre-positioning of northern survival caches at several key northern airports and ensuring that search and rescue organizations have access to life-saving equipment and material that can be rapidly air dropped.

In addition, the Department of National Defence also provides training and financial assistance to the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association which is establishing the capabilities of northern commercial operators to help increase the availability of search aircraft in Canada's north.

Perhaps most important, the Canadian Forces is increasing its physical presence and capabilities in the north by conducting training operations.

The Canadian Forces has various domestic roles and is responsible for multiple activities on a daily basis, such as surveillance, search and rescue and readiness training, all of which must be considered when planning the distribution of its assets so that the right mix of capabilities is distributed to optimize its availability for a variety of roles in Canada.

Such was the case just a few weeks ago when the Minister of National Defence announced the deployment of a third Griffon helicopter to 5 Wing Goose Bay. This will increase the operational flexibility of 444 Combat Support Squadron to support secondary roles, such as search and rescue missions.

In conclusion, I believe this debate has made it clear that this government, along with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, continually strives to provide the best service possible so that Canadians receive the help they need when and where they need it.

While we cannot support this particular motion, I thank the hon. member for bringing this discussion forward and for taking such an active interest in the Canadian Forces and its primary mission, which is protecting the safety of Canadians. I think all members of the House can agree on that.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my very great pleasure to speak to this motion. Many of my colleagues are aware that I am a former member of the military, but I was also a medical assistant in the Canadian Forces. That job has a direct connection with the subject before us.

The reason I wanted to say a few words about this motion is that, in the three elections in which I have campaigned, many people came to talk to me because of my military background and asked me what purpose our armed forces serve. They told me they found it hard to understand what purpose our armed forces actually serve, simply that they went on missions abroad and they did not understand more than that. They added that it seemed to them that the armed forces should focus more on our needs. Often, that was when people started talking about search and rescue.

Search and rescue is really a job that our armed forces do directly, to protect and assist the Canadian public by coming to the rescue of people who are in need. Search and rescue is something that really does focus on our needs. As well, I think search and rescue fits well with the Canada first theme of the Canada first defence strategy. Search and rescue means helping, protecting and serving Canadians first. I think that having very high standards for search and rescue is entirely appropriate and is in line with the strategy and the kind of army that most Canadians want to have, to defend their country and serve them.

I would also like to mention that as a medical assistant in the armed forces it is truly a dream to be able to work in search and rescue someday, because doing that job means performing a real service to society. It means saving lives. I did search and rescue exercises with the Canadian Forces reserves every year. It is something that we took very seriously because we wanted to be ready and able to do it on the day when we had to do it in real life, when someone’s life had to be saved. Those training exercises were highly valued by soldiers. Thus, we must understand that search and rescue is important to Canada.

I would like to take the time to read the motion, because it really is an excellent motion. The motion states:

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.

I will get back to the motion, but I must say that this is an excellent motion and a number of elements help us better understand the situation.

If we are talking about international norms, the norm of 30 minutes at all times comes from a report produced by Seacom International Inc., which is a company that specializes in emergency preparedness. This company prepared a report for the Standing Committee on National Defence. In this report, Canada was ranked last, behind Australia, Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States when it comes to search and rescue response times.

I think it is awful that Canada is last given that our country usually aspires to a leadership role in search and rescue.

I think it is essential that we aim higher. First of all, I want to make it clear that, with respect to search and rescue response time, the clock starts ticking when the authorities give the order and ends when the aircraft, boat or vehicle leaves the base to carry out the search and rescue mission. No more than 30 minutes should elapse between tasking and the time people leave the base to carry out the mission. It is important to understand that it can sometimes take a lot of time to transport people.

So, it can take quite a while for the search and rescue mission to reach the person. Sometimes it can take more than two, three or four hours in the air or on the water to reach the person in danger. I want to make that very clear.

I would like to provide a brief overview of the number of responses that search and rescue people will have to carry out. There are three joint rescue coordination centres located in Halifax, Trenton and Victoria. These centres coordinate search and rescue interventions. Every year, they coordinate some 1,100 interventions in response to incidents, rescue more than 20,000 people, and literally save an average of 1,200 lives. It is important to keep those numbers in mind.

Now I would like to talk about the problem that led to this motion. Currently, the Canadian Forces have two different search and rescue response times. During office hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the response time is 30 minutes, which is what the motion calls for. However, in the evening and at night, from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., weekends and statutory holidays, the readiness standard is 120 minutes, or two hours.

Thus, two hours can go by between the time when the order is received and when the plane or boat leaves the base. After that, there is also the time needed to get to the site, which can take up to an additional two hours. This means a really long response time.

Most emergency situations—over 80%—that require a search and rescue response occur outside the hours when a the 30 minute response time is the norm. So it is particularly disturbing to think that, for over 80% of operations, people have to settle for a two hour timeframe. In practical terms, one of the reasons for this is that, if people are out on the water for the day, either for work or recreational purposes, other people—their families and spouses, for instance—who are waiting for them ashore will not begin to worry until the evening, when their loved one has not returned. That is one reason why so many calls are logged in the evening and at night. Calls are received when people begin to think it is really strange that their loved one has not appeared.

At that time of day, people must wait two hours to contact a person. If we consider the example of someone who calls at 6 p.m., if there is a two hour wait, the work will have to take place at night, but if the response had begun within 30 minutes, the work could have been done in the daylight. Something is really not working here.

Everyone here agrees that if someone were to call the hospital when their spouse was having a heart attack and they were told that it would be two hours before the ambulance even sets out, that would be considered completely unacceptable, especially if they were told that it normally takes 30 minutes to send an ambulance, but, sorry, since the heart attack happened in the evening after supper, it will take two hours. So, they will just have to wait a bit and hope the someone is good at performing CPR. It makes absolutely no sense. No one ever chooses the moment they will need emergency assistance.

I would also like to say one last time that it is understandable that the volume of distress calls is not always the same when we are talking about search and rescue and medical help. It is fact of life that the call volume goes down in the evening, but we still have to be ready in case a call does come in, because lives are at stake.

The Conservative government has to make choices in its budget and in the budget bill. When we talk about the Canadian Forces, Canadians understand the need to set high standards in order to promote effective search and rescue services. People would understand if the government made that choice. This is a question of choice. The Conservatives can make that choice and avoid needlessly putting lives in danger.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak to the motion introduced by my neighbouring colleague with respect to search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Search and rescue is extremely important to Newfoundland and Labrador. Many thousands of miles of coastline and many different industries depend on search and rescue, from the fishery to the offshore oil to people at its location. St. John's has long been a hop-off for many people, adventurers who go across the Atlantic. Our search and rescue boundaries go well beyond just our immediate shorelines.

As a member of Parliament, it is a privilege and an honour to serve in this House. It is also a privilege and honour to go out and experience first-hand what our men and women do in the armed forces, in particular with respect to search and rescue. I have had an opportunity in the last year and a half to do two things. The first is that I spent three days at CFB Greenwood to see what our men and women in the armed forces do. I had an opportunity to see our SAR techs' abilities and to see them in action.

Let us not mistake this motion before this House today. It does nothing to talk about the excellent work of our SAR techs. It does not criticize them. We have great Canadian Forces members who do excellent work for the men and women in our armed forces. The SAR techs in particular are amazing individuals. The knowledge and comprehension required of these men and women as SAR techs is amazing, whether it is of high angle rescue, scuba diving or first aid.

This motion today does not talk about our forces. I heard the Conservative members talking about how much our search and rescue means, and I absolutely agree. This motion talks about response times. We are talking about 30 minutes to wheels up and being in the air. Currently that response time is Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 5:00, regular working hours. However, times have changed over the last 20 to 30 years. When this was first established, there probably were not a lot of people on the water outside of those normal hours. This has been on the books for many years. Times change, and so should the services we provide to Canadians. We need to look at that.

The second thing I did as a member of Parliament since being elected was tour the marine search and rescue sub-centre in St. John's, which the government has decided to close. It is another important search and rescue asset and is done through the Coast Guard. If one tours this facility, the local knowledge and skills that these people have on the ground in Newfoundland and Labrador is unbelievable. To stand on guard listening for that distress call is an important part of the search and rescue debate. To close the search and rescue sub-centre in St. John's does not make sense to any of us in Newfoundland and Labrador, because the people who are listening for that call know the local area, know what to listen for, and know the land and the sea. It is very disappointing that the government has chosen to do this.

Getting back to the motion at hand, members talk about “wheels up, ready to go”, this international standard of 30 minutes. The Americans pride themselves on their American Coast Guard. We often see it portrayed in a lot of circumstances. We need to portray our search and rescue in the same fashion. To be honest, I do not know what the standard is in the United States. However, in Canada we have to make sure that we have that 30-minute response time.

Are we surprised that the government is not supporting this particular motion? No, because a year or so ago the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was in Newfoundland and Labrador on a committee meeting, and she came under fire from our province for her comments regarding search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the country. This is where we get to the crux of the matter, which is the fact that the government just does not get this particular aspect.

I would like to read a quote from when the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was there and made a statement. It reads as follows:

Explaining that those who operate on the Great Lakes and Ottawa River don't count on the Coast Guard for help, the Ottawa Valley MP told an audience in St. John's — including those who lost relatives and fellow workers during marine accidents — that it's up to local communities, the province and private companies to make more of an effort to help with rescues and perhaps finance such services.

This is what the Conservatives think. They think it should not be up to the national government and that we should download it onto the provinces and put more burden on them. We should put this onto volunteer groups. They should be in charge of search and rescue.

The member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who sits on the defence committee, went on to state:

In Ontario we have inland seas, the Great Lakes, and it would never occur to any of us, even up the Ottawa River, to count on the Coast Guard to come and help us.

Search and rescue is for all Canadians. It is there for the Great Lakes, the Ottawa River, the St. Lawrence Seaway. One never knows when one is going to need search and rescue.

Time is very important. We need look no further than what happened to young Burton Winters in Makkovik this past winter. Time ran out on him after he walked almost 19 kilometres. In some circumstances, all we have is time, and the quicker search and rescue can get on site and deploy the resources needed, the better.

The cost on this to government is not a large amount of money. This is about scheduling. This is about having a couple of extra search and rescue crews on each of the bases, so that a 24/7, 30-minute response time can be scheduled. The costs now are even higher, because when a call does not fall into the 8:00 to 5:00 slot on Monday to Friday, there is overtime and other costs that come along with it. If we did the research, we would realize that it would not cost that much more to provide such a valuable service with a 30-minute response time. Weather never co-operates on the east coast of this great country, and we never know what to expect with regard to the weather. A 30-minute response time is very important, and we should strive toward this international response time so that our brave men and women who do this excellent work will continue to serve their country well.

I am pleased to have had an opportunity to speak to this motion today. Search and rescue is a valuable resource. The government needs to reconsider its decision to close the sub-centres in St. John's and Quebec City, just for linguistic purposes alone.

There is a community in my riding called Upper Island Cove. It is affectionately called Island Cove. When a call comes in from someone in Upper Island Cove, search and rescue staff need to know where the individuals are. If the people only have 30 seconds before their ship goes down and they are off of Upper Island Cove in Newfoundland, the person on the other end needs to know that they are off of Upper Island Cove, not Lower Island Cove. There is a very short window of time to get a distress call out, and that plays into the search and rescue assets being deployed. Many marine disasters that happen with fishing vessels occur early in the morning or late at night as they are steaming home with their catches. It is very important that they receive an on-time and timely search and rescue response.

I congratulate the member for St. John's East on putting this motion before the House. It is something that should be considered. There is nothing wrong with government saying it needs to strive toward this response time. I encourage all members who live in coastal communities, the Conservative members too, to strive toward a 30-minute response time. It might take some time for us to get there, but that should be our goal in today's day and age: a 30-minute response time.

I encourage all members, in particular those on the government side, to strive toward this important goal for search and rescue in our country.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak to the motion introduced by my hon. colleague from St. John's East.

This issue is very important to me, because I represent a maritime region. Many coastal communities are very concerned about maritime search and rescue operations, which save the lives of fishers, mariners and pleasure boaters, who flock to the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands.

People condemn the fact that there is a double standard in Canada right now. One standard applies on weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. During that time period, it takes 30 minutes to launch a search and rescue operation to save fishers or mariners. I am not saying that search and rescue workers do not give their all. These people are clearly very brave, and we really appreciate the dangerous work they do. They go through some very intense training.

The fact is there is simply not enough staff for dealing with the high volume of recreational boaters who are active outside regular working hours, on weekends, which, statistics show, is when 80% of the emergency calls enter our system.

There is a major disconnect between the service offered and the resources required to have the first-rate service we deserve in a free and democratic country such as Canada. We expect first-rate service.

Recently, there was question as to whether closing the marine rescue centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, would have an impact. For example, a sea captain with a health problem radioed the centre, but the centre did not have enough staff. The call had to be directed to a doctor in Rome. First, obviously the doctor was not familiar with the Newfoundland dialect. Second, he was unfamiliar with the Grand Banks of the Atlantic Ocean. Third, he did not know the risks this poor captain was facing. All this is very worrisome.

The budget cuts the Conservatives are proposing today, with Bill C-38 for instance, will endanger the lives of our fishers, mariners and recreational boaters. Canadians expect the federal government to protect them, but this government is abandoning them.

Frankly, Bill C-38 should not be passed by this House and today's motion moved by the hon. member for St. John's East on the staff at the search and rescue centres, is a good reason why not. We do not have the means to save Canadians' lives and we should be ashamed.

The Conservatives are offering solutions to fix the staff shortage. We already know that many of the fixed wing search and rescue aircraft need to be replaced. What is the government proposing as a replacement? It is proposing the F-35 fighter jets. Those planes are not built for saving lives. They are built for war.

Should the Conservative government's top priority not be Canadians' health and safety, instead of going ahead with plans to declare war elsewhere? Resources absolutely have to be in place here, in Canada, but that is just not the case. The Cormorant, Griffon, Hercules and Buffalo aircraft are all in an abysmal state of repair. We absolutely must replace a great deal of our equipment, and that is just not happening.

There are delays and discussions. There is talk, but no action. We have seen the consequences of not replacing equipment. We can cite the death of Burton Winters in Makkovik, Labrador, which is really not that far from Gander, where there is a rescue centre. We should have been able to save that young man, but we did not mainly because we did not have the resources. If someone finds themselves in trouble after four o'clock in the afternoon, too bad for them. There is a good chance that they will not make it because the Government of Canada is not there to provide the help they need and expect.

Quite frankly, it is shameful to spend money on F-35s when the lives of Canadians are at risk. Many Canadians died last year, and that will continue. It is a real shame.

It makes no sense to endanger the lives of our fishers, mariners and pleasure boat operators in the name of budget cuts. We must obviously consider the state of Canada's finances, but not to the point where we jeopardize people's very lives. This is what is troubling about the Conservatives. Perhaps they misunderstood the consultations conducted last year. The Standing Committee on National Defence travelled to Gander and Halifax, and committee members met people and heard testimony from individuals who requested improved and increased resources and better service.

The committee was unfortunately unable to publish its report. Many members in the House may not have had a chance to read the testimony. I invite members from all parties to take note of the evidence received by the Standing Committee on National Defence in late January or early February of last year. It would definitely be instructive to read it even though the report was not published.

We understood that Canadians felt the Conservative government was not doing enough. In fact, it is even doing the opposite. It is cutting budgets at a time when we need more resources. It is making cutbacks of nearly $80 million at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It has made cuts to the Coast Guard. The vessel traffic services centres are shutting down, and the rescue centres are closing. No service improvements are planned, quite the contrary. More people will definitely be at risk than in the past. I believe the Conservatives will pay a heavy price for the choices they are making today. Endangering people's lives in order to save pennies—mere scraps—is incomprehensible.

The government claims to be saving $1 million by closing the Quebec City rescue centre. The Trenton rescue centre, however, which was supposed to replace it in large part, is unable to do so. Nearly $1 million will have to be spent to upgrade it to the level of the rescue centre being closed.

You do not save money just to spend it later. Doing that not only risks the lives of fishers, mariners and pleasure boaters, but it also puts the lives of francophone fishers, mariners and pleasure boaters at particular risk.

In a recent report, the Commissioner of Official Languages pointed out that closing the search and rescue sub-centre in Quebec City will put francophones especially at risk. Clearly, Trenton is not likely to have a large bilingual population. I know that the people in Trenton do a very good job—it is a renowned military centre—but the fact is that they are not known for their bilingualism or their ability to understand the Acadian accent and dialect.

In addition, the government has closed the rescue sub-centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, and transferred the staff to Halifax, but the people there do not know the Grand Banks or the Newfoundland dialect. The government is putting people's lives at risk to save a few bucks. We do not even know for sure that this move will save money. At the end of the day, I believe it will cost money and lives, and that is truly shameful. It makes no sense to risk the lives of our fishers, sailors and pleasure boaters.

The Conservatives will have to answer for this, and they should be ashamed.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House today to support the motion moved by the member for St. John's East concerning search and rescue in Canada.

This motion states that Canada lags behind international search and rescue norms, and it calls on 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.

The purpose of this important motion is to fill a major gap in Canada's current system. As a number of my colleagues have explained, the Canadian Forces currently have two different response times for search and rescue incidents. Response times are set according to the hours of work generally in effect in other occupations. During regular business hours, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., the response time is 30 minutes.

During those hours, it takes 30 minutes or less between the time authorities give an order and the time the rescue vehicle leaves the military base where it is stationed. However, the situation is completely different at other times. Between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., and on weekends and holidays, the response standard for search and rescue teams is 120 minutes. In other words, it takes two hours to organize a search and rescue operation to respond to an emergency situation where human lives are at stake.

Such a double standard is unacceptable when people's survival depends on the speed of the response. My colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador spoke movingly about certain tragedies at sea, where people lost their lives because search and rescue operations took too long to get organized. They referred, among other incidents, to the tragic case of the Melina and Keith II, a fishing vessel that sank off the coast of Newfoundland, around 5:30 p.m., on September 12, 2005.

Of the eight fishermen who originally survived, only four made it. Unfortunately, the other four died because they were not rescued quickly enough. Canadian Forces helicopters took 3 hours and 8 minutes to reach the site where the boat had sunk. Since this tragic incident occurred during what is considered a down time for the Canadian Forces, that is after 4 p.m., the 30-minute response standard did not apply.

It is absurd to think that, had the Melina and Keith II sunk just two hours earlier, four fishermen could have been saved because the Canadian Forces would have had to have responded within 30 minutes.

It is obvious that this two-tier system for search and rescue operations in Canada is not adequate in its existing form. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to examine this issue and to try to correct the serious flaws in the system, which jeopardize the lives of many Canadians.

Given that close to 80% of emergencies occur outside the period covered by the 30-minute response time, it is obvious that things must change. According to a report produced by Seacom International for the Standing Committee on National Defence, Canada ranks last when it comes to rescue times for search and rescue operations. Indeed, Seacom International, which specializes in emergency preparedness, puts us in last place, behind Australia, Ireland, Mexico and the United States, among others.

I think it is worth taking another look at the comparison between our standards and international standards. As I mentioned, under Canadian standards, rescue time is 30 minutes during the day and 120 minutes between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., and on weekends.

When we look at what happens in Ireland, we can see that the norm for response time is 15 minutes during the day—that is, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.—and 45 minutes after 9:00 p.m. In Australia, the response time is 30 minutes around the clock. Australia has a vast area to cover. It has kilometres and kilometres of coastline. Yet they provide a 30-minute service, day and night, for people in distress on their shores.

If we look at the United States, the same thing is happening. We are talking about 30 minutes 24/7. But here, in Canada, response time outside regular working hours is two hours for people in distress. It simply makes no sense; we have to change the current norms to comply with international standards that are in effect almost everywhere and that make perfect sense. We have enough resources. If we redistribute the resources we currently have, we will be able to provide this service to every Canadian, and to all the people in distress on our shores.

We absolutely must make search and rescue a priority here in Canada. Like many other countries, Canada has many kilometres of coastline; British Columbia, the north, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Maritimes and other areas come to mind. We have to make sure that all Canada's coasts are protected and that we allocate sufficient resources to ensure that all people who find themselves in emergency situations along our coasts have the best possible chance of survival.

Canadians' health and safety must be a priority for us, for every parliamentarian, regardless of their political party. The priority should not be F-35 fighter planes that are going to cost Canadians billions of dollars and will not necessarily save Canadians’ lives when they need it. We have to set priorities that directly serve our fellow Canadians. We have to admit that the cuts being made by the government are going to make the already difficult job of the Canadian Forces, when it comes to search and rescue operations, even more difficult than it is now.

People complain there are not enough personnel, but even more pressure is going to be put on Trenton and Halifax, for example, to try to meet the needs that are currently covered by the maritime search and rescue centres in Quebec City and St. John's. Considering the language requirements, we see that this has been brought up in this House a number of times. It is not clear that the military bases, for example in Trenton, are going to be able to provide people with bilingual services. As well, the closure of the maritime search and rescue centre in Quebec City has been moved back a year because the needs cannot be met by Trenton at present.

In addition, the need for someone to be understood in their own language immediately is a matter of life or death when they are facing an accident at sea. Sometimes it is a matter of seconds that can change how an event turns out and save someone’s life. We have to make sure that the people who answer distress calls are able to provide equivalent service to everyone, and that is not the case at present with the changes announced by the Conservatives.

As well, the closure of the maritime search and rescue centres in Quebec City and St. John's will cause a significant loss of expertise, and that is for the Gulf of St. Lawrence alone. That is a coastline with quite specific features. There are many dangers and it takes people several years to get to know that coastline well enough that they can help people. By closing that centre and centralizing all operations in Trenton and Halifax, for example, we lose that expertise and we endanger people’s lives.

So if we put these cuts in perspective, and add in the fact that there is a double standard when it comes to rescue times in Canada, we clearly have a responsibility, as parliamentarians, to consider this issue and do everything we can to guarantee Canadians’ safety. This issue has to be discussed in the House, as we are doing now. This is an important debate and I urge all members to vote in favour of this extremely important motion, as I will be doing with pride, and as my colleagues will be doing as well.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is important for me to speak to the motion introduced by the member for St. John's East.

First, I can announce that the Bloc Québecois will be supporting this motion. I also invite all parliamentarians in the House to support this bill, which goes beyond any type of partisanship and will necessarily help all pleasure boaters, fishers and all people who go to sea in our waters.

The motion as worded states that the government must take all such measures as may be required to achieve the international readiness standard of 30 minutes. That standard is essential to the survival of our people who go to sea.

Far from promoting progress toward the response time target, the government is making a decision that does not reflect the importance of this service, which must be quick and effective.

As I said earlier, every minute counts when action is taken at sea. In a country whose motto is “From Sea to Sea”, the government seems at times not to realize that the motto means more than words; it requires an understanding of reality and some concrete actions.

The government can no longer disregard that reality: we have a large marine area to cover and thus the responsibility to ensure that the people who navigate in our territorial waters are protected by high-quality services and a rapid response.

Fishers and pleasure boaters are entitled to service that meets the international 30 minute standard. Why not aim for a shorter response time?

But what is the government doing? The Conservatives have announced the closing of the Quebec City marine rescue centre. They have also announced the closing of the Rivière-au-Renard maritime radio station, which is at the port of entry to the gulf. This means that 15 jobs will be lost in our region. The closing of that station increases the danger to shipping in the gulf. Les Escoumins maritime radio station will now have to cover all of eastern Quebec, which will increase the workload of the people there. They are already doing an outstanding job, but an even greater burden is being placed on their shoulders.

Knowledge of our territorial waters is crucial in responding appropriately to the captain of any type of vessel navigating in Canada's territorial waters. People are concerned, both fishers and pleasure craft operators.

I enjoy sailing myself. I have a pleasure craft licence and have sailed in different situations. Sometimes conditions deteriorate very quickly in our waters; there are a number of dangers. So, if the need for help arises—and we hope it never does—it is important to be able to count on a service that is able to respond quickly and efficiently in order to save lives.

The Commissioner of Official Languages also expressed concern about the transfer of the emergency centre to Trenton. When people get into situations that lead them to call for help, they sometimes become nervous, because it is an emergency for them. For French-speakers—most of the people in Quebec waters—getting a response from someone who does not fully understand their language can increase the danger. The language barrier can also reduce the ability to respond appropriately to a specific emergency request.

That is why the search and rescue sub-centre in Quebec City must be maintained and why the government must support the motion introduced by the hon. member for St. John's East, which calls for the achievement of the readiness standard of 30 minutes.

I urge every member of this House to set aside all partisan differences and to meet the needs of fishers, pleasure boaters and anyone sailing anywhere in our waters.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank members on both sides of the House who participated in this debate. A lot of people took the opportunity to talk about search and rescue in general, and I am very glad to see it given that attention in the House. It ought to be a greater priority, we believe, for Canadian Forces. Therefore, the attention being given to it from all parts of the country is certainly valuable and worthwhile.

I did not really hear any rationale for not supporting this motion. We know that SAR involves many elements, but the Canadian Forces' response time with helicopters and fixed wing is extremely important in getting to an emergency, particularly at sea. The position of the double standard of 30 minutes during the 8:00 to 4:00 period and two hours afterwards, when about 80% plus of the taskings take place, is really unsupportable.

The Kitsilano Coast Guard station, which was closed down by this government, with 12 people, provides a rescue crew of 3 people at any one time who can respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the whole year round, and they can do so within 1 to 2 minutes of being tasked.

Coast Guard ships on SAR standby duty are able to embark within 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In St. John's if someone is in a helicopter being transported to the Hibernia, or any other oil platform off the coast of Newfoundland, there is another SAR helicopter required to be wheels up in 15 to 20 minutes. This is a result of the recommendation of the Wells inquiry into the Cougar crash of March 2009. If there is an emergency, especially at sea, we need the rescue to “get there fast”, to quote the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. I agree with him, getting there fast means getting into the air fast, to get there.

Therefore, why do we continue with a system that says we can have a SAR aircraft in the air within 30 minutes between 8:00 and 4:00 on weekdays, but outside that, when as I mentioned over 80% of the tasking takes place, the standard required is two hours?

Members opposite said that we are unique and that this is the reason why we must have our own standard. Well, we certainly are unique in the world. We are in fact the second largest country in the world, which is all the more reason we need to get into the air faster. We also have the longest coastline in the world. We have to remember we are going from only four places for primary aeronautical SAR for all of Canada: Gander, in Newfoundland and Labrador; Greenwood, in Nova Scotia; Trenton, Ontario; and Comox, B.C. There are four places for all of Canada, including the Arctic. Getting there fast means getting into the air fast and that requires a better standard than we have.

Other countries have set a better standard. The United States and Australia have 30 minutes to wheels up, 24/7, 365 days. Norway has a 15-minute standard for getting a helicopter into the air, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have an elongated day, 15 minutes in the daytime up until 9:00 or 10:00 at night and 45 minutes overnight. Even Mexico has around-the-clock 40-minute wheels up, in the air.

These countries can do this; why can we not? Why can we not give the priority to search and rescue that it deserves? Why can we not have a 21st century rescue service that can respond quickly, as other countries can? Even the United States, for example, has not only the 30-minute standard but a standard that says they have to be at any place in their area of responsibility within a total of 90 minutes. A country like Canada should be looking at standards like that to be sure we can meet our commitments to our citizens, in particular the Canadian Forces, whose job it is to defend Canada and protect Canadians.

I urge members opposite who have considered voting against this motion to change their minds. We would sure like you have their support for improving search and rescue standards in Canada, to help save lives, particularly for those who are in desperate emergencies that require search and rescue to get there as soon as possible.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Yea.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Nay.

Search and Rescue
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion, the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 13, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.