House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. The time for government orders has expired. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will have four minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 2012 / midnight

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the issue of search and rescue, which is so important, not just to the riding of Random—Burin—St. George's but to all of Canada. In fact, the idea that anyone could require the services of search and rescue and not be able to avail of them, I would suggest was probably unheard of in Newfoundland and Labrador, until recently when the government went to the extreme of closing down the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, Newfoundland.

The problem is that those people who make a living from the sea, who work on oil rigs, who fish, who travel on ocean-going vessels, who travel on Marine Atlantic, are all at the mercy of the weather and the ocean. To suggest it is appropriate to close down the maritime rescue sub-centre and have the issue with respect to search and rescue handled by the joint rescue centre out of Halifax is something that leaves one wondering why the government would even go down this path.

To suggest that it would save $1 million by doing this is foolhardy. We know only too well that will not happen. We know that the joint rescue centres in Halifax and in Trenton cannot accommodate those who will be put out of work, as well as hire others, in the existing facility. It will have to expand that facility. There is a cost associated with that expansion, and we know only too well what happens when we have to expand a facility. Therefore, for the government to suggest that this will save money, again begs this question, how much is a life worth?

We only know too well in Newfoundland and Labrador what it means to be at sea and to require the services of search and rescue. It has not been easy for people who make a living from the sea. Being all too familiar with the issues that arise when people are in distress on the ocean, I can say they really need that comfort that someone in search and rescue will be able to respond immediately to their needs and to make sure they are saved.

In a lot of cases, the maritime rescue sub-centre did just that. In fact, it responded to over 500 distress calls a year, which resulted in over 600 lives being saved.

Therefore, for the government to even think about closing the maritime rescue sub-centre, as it has done, points to the carelessness and recklessness of this decision. It will mean the loss of life. Anybody who has any appreciation for people who work on the ocean knows only too well what it means to try to make a living off the ocean, and to go down this path is indeed a reckless and irresponsible one.

When we talk about search and rescue, we cannot speak of it in Newfoundland and Labrador without talking about Burton Winters, the 14-year old young man who should never have lost his life. We know only too well how difficult the terrain and weather can be in Labrador. When that young man went missing, for there not to have been a search and rescue helicopter made available, again speaks to the issue of what the government is doing with respect to search and rescue.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, Midnight

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the issue raised by my hon. colleague, the member for Random—Burin—St. George's, regarding the consolidation of the rescue centres in St. John's and Quebec City with the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton.

Let me please begin by first offering my deepest condolences to the Winters family. Burton's story has touched Canadians across the country, and our thoughts are with the community of Makkovik during this difficult time.

It remains to be said that the consolidation of the marine rescue sub-centres is in no way connected to this tragedy. In order to be respectful, perhaps it is best that we refrain from crafting tenuous links between two entirely separate issues to show compassion for the family and community as they mourn such an unfortunate loss.

The Canadian search and rescue system is comprised of hundreds of federal, provincial and local partner organizations, each with their own distinct mandates and responsibilities.

The marine rescue sub-centre located in St. John's, Newfoundland was operated by the Canadian Coast Guard until its responsibilities were transferred to the joint rescue coordination centre in Halifax on April 25.

The mandate of the Canadian Coast Guard with regard to search and rescue is clear: to provide maritime resources in support of search and rescue in areas of federal responsibility. This explains why the sub-centre was not involved in this incident. Its mandated responsibility, and therefore area of expertise, is in on-the-water response. Ground search and rescue, as was required in this incident, is conducted under the jurisdiction of individual provinces and territories.

With that being said, this incident only serves to highlight the value in consolidating the marine rescue sub-centres into the joint rescue coordination centres located in Halifax and Trenton. This initiative will facilitate incident response coordination by co-locating both air and maritime personnel in a single rescue centre. Co-location will provide for closer communication between Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Forces personnel, ultimately to the benefit of Canadians.

The decision to consolidate the rescue centres in St. John's and Quebec City with the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton resulted from the Government of Canada's strategic review exercise, which provides us with the opportunity to streamline programs and the way in which services are delivered to Canadians.

It was determined that search and rescue coordination services could be delivered in a more efficient and effective manner, with no impact on service delivery or safety. This process ensures that the tax dollars of hard-working Canadians are used in the most efficient way possible, a value that Canadians demand of us.

It is for these reasons that Fisheries and Oceans Canada will not reconsider its decision to consolidate the marine rescue sub-centres in St. John's and Quebec City with the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. Implementation is currently well under way in co-operation with our partners at the Canadian Forces.

Finally, I would like to reaffirm this government's commitment to ensuring the safety and security of all Canadians. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, it is unfortunately impossible to save everyone, as recent events humbly remind us. However, it is the duty of this government to provide the means for a strong, responsive search and rescue system in Canada and it is the dedication of search and rescue personnel across this nation that make such a promise reality.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, we have heard that line so many times that one would think by now the government would understand that we are not buying it. No one is buying it. The family of Burton Winters is not buying it. People in Newfoundland and Labrador are not buying it. Canadians are not buying it.

It simply is not true that there is no connection. In fact, JRCC out of Halifax was called. There was an aircraft available, but it chose not to deploy it in case it was needed elsewhere. The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador said that if an aircraft was available that was not being used for its primary function, then it should have been deployed on a humanitarian basis.

This was a 14-year-old young man out of Labrador who was lost. He was missing. If an aircraft was available, it should have been deployed to look for this young man instead of being held in the event that something happened at sea.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, Fisheries and Oceans Canada remains steadfast in our dedication to the safety of mariners traversing Canadian waters.

While what occurred in Makkovik was undoubtedly tragic, it has absolutely nothing to do with the St. John's marine rescue sub-centre. The responsibility of coordinating and responding to ground search and rescue incidents falls outside the mandate of the Canadian Coast Guard.

However, this incident does highlight the value of consolidation. By co-locating both air and maritime personnel in a single rescue centre, there would be closer communication between Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Forces personnel, ultimately to the benefit of mariners in Canadian waters.

Finally, I would like to reaffirm this government's commitment to marine safety and our dedication to providing the means necessary to ensure that Canada's search and rescue system remains among the world's best.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Regarding the second item on tonight's agenda, the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona is not present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice has been given. Accordingly, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, nobody can argue that Canada, which is surrounded by three oceans and has the longest coastline in the world, is a maritime nation.

Inhabitants of the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands are the perfect example of this. In my riding, the coastal communities' way of life depends on marine safety.

It seems totally logical to me that good comprehension of a distress call is fundamental to ensuring adequate maritime safety. I would therefore like to know how good comprehension will be possible once the Conservative government closes the Canadian Coast Guard's Quebec City search and rescue centre, the country's only officially bilingual centre.

How can the government ensure that the lives of the mariners, fishers and recreational boaters in my riding, most of whom are francophone, will be protected if the operator does not understand them? It seems to me that good knowledge of the local environment is also critical to ensuring marine safety.

I would therefore like to know why the government is closing the Rivière-au-Renard marine radio station, which has been supporting navigation, communications, marine traffic and rescue operations for over 100 years. Because people working at the station have extensive knowledge of currents, tides and the geography of the seabed and the surrounding area, they are key to ensuring safety at sea.

Sixteen employees, including twelve communications officers, work at the Rivière-au-Renard station. This is another serious blow to the economy of the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands. It will result in the loss of $1.5 million in payroll and other spinoffs for my region.

Like the changes to the owner-operator and fleet separation policy that threaten the livelihood of coastal communities, and the changes to employment insurance that will penalize seasonal industries, closing the Rivière-au-Renard station is another direct attack on the Gaspé and Magdalen Islands. Why are the Conservatives attacking my region again?

Not only are cuts to the Canadian Coast Guard endangering the lives of the inhabitants of the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands, but the savings resulting from these cuts have not been identified. The Conservatives talk about saving only $1 million by closing the Quebec City centre, but we do not know how much they will spend on relocating employees. How much money do they expect to really save just on the Rivière-au-Renard centre?

In addition, the Minister of Finance claims that these cuts will only affect “back-office operations”. Contrary to what he said, it is obvious to me that marine safety should not be considered back-office operations by the federal government. That is further proof that the Conservatives are completely out of touch with the regions.

The reality is that this government is abandoning mariners, fishers or recreational boaters in the Gaspé and Magdalen Islands region in order to save minuscule amounts. Will this government finally listen to the NDP and rescind its decisions to close the search and rescue centres in Quebec City and St. John's and the Rivière-au-Renard marine radio station?

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:10 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the issue raised by my hon. colleague, the member of Parliament for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, regarding the consolidation of the marine rescue sub-centre located in Quebec City with the joint rescue coordination centres located in Halifax and Trenton.

This is an issue that we have addressed repeatedly in the House, as it seems there is quite a lot of confusion over the facts. Put simply, much of what opposition members are stating is simply untrue. Today, I want to set the record straight.

I will e begin by reiterating that Fisheries and Oceans Canada remains steadfast in our dedication to the safety of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We are a national and international leader in marine safety and the Canadian Coast Guard's search and rescue program is among the best in the world.

As we have stated many times before, this change does not affect the availability of search and rescue resources. Coast Guard ships and the Coast Guard auxiliary will continue to respond to emergencies as they have previously with the joint rescue coordination centres maintaining the current levels of service provided by the Canadian Coast Guard. We will continue to ensure that timely and appropriate maritime search and rescue coordination and response services are available to all mariners.

With regard to the preliminary report by the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Canadian Coast Guard has already taken action to address the key issues raised in the report.

However, the allegation that bilingual capacity is scandalously inadequate is simply inaccurate. In fact, the national level of bilingual capacity will be maintained and enhanced over time, above and beyond that which is currently provided.

Here are the facts. Currently, bilingual services are provided by two rescue centres: the joint rescue coordination centre Halifax and marine rescue sub-centre Quebec. The consolidation team has taken great care to ensure that this capacity be enhanced before the Quebec centre is fully consolidated.

First, our ongoing campaign to recruit successful bilingual applicants continues to bring forward motivated professionals who are dedicated to ensuring public safety.

Second, we are providing existing maritime search and rescue coordinators with additional language training.

Last, we have added additional bilingual coordinator positions and increased the required level of language proficiency. With such enhanced bilingual capacity, French-speaking mariners can be confident that their calls for assistance will be answered, as has always been the case.

I will assure members that this transition will have no impact on existing search and rescue coordination service standards. Coordination services will still be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in both official languages and will be delivered by the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. The provision for bilingual services is critical. Recognizing this, the Canadian Coast Guard has taken steps to address this important issue.

We understand that change can be disconcerting to some, as sometimes the future can be difficult to predict. However, in this case, there is quite simply no cause for concern as we have taken steps to address these requirements. The Canadian Coast Guard prides itself in providing reliable services that Canadians can rely on and this will not change. Such is the pledge that we are committed to keep. Public safety is and always will be this government's first priority.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:15 a.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I find the member's comments to be dismissive and absolutely abhorrent. We already have incidents at sea where people's lives have been put at risk because of a lack of sufficient francophone services. There was a French mariner who was not able to get adequate francophone response. This is a situation of transition that the government is saying will cause any harm. We have already put people's lives at risk. We have already put at risk the life of another mariner who could not get any service from St. John's because the centre was closed and the call had to be relayed to Rome. A doctor in Rome probably has a very hard time understanding, first, the accent of Newfoundlanders and, second, the geography of the region.

Frankly, saying that we have no reason to worry is a gross misunderstanding of the situation. We are putting lives at risk.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, public safety is the government's first priority. As we have stated many times before, the consolidation of the marine rescue sub-centre in Quebec into the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton will not affect the availability of search and rescue resources. The national level of bilingual capacity will be maintained and enhanced over time, above the levels currently in place. With such enhanced bilingual capacity, Canadians, including French-speaking mariners, can be confident that their calls for assistance will be answered in their official language of choice.

We recognize that some people are concerned with this transition. However, I stand before the House tonight to reassure Canadians that bilingual search and rescue services will always be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in Canada. Such is our commitment to Canadian mariners now and such is our pledge for the future. The safety and security of Canadians will not be compromised.

Search and Rescue
Adjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until later this day at 2 p.m., pursuant to an order made on Monday, June 11, and Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 12:19 a.m.)