House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rescue.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, it is very distressing to hear the parliamentary secretary say that we are misleading Canadians. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that the information we are presenting in this House has come from people in the affected local communities. What the parliamentary secretary is really saying is that the government is completely dismissing the impact and what the experts and people in local communities are saying.

I know the hon. member is not from Vancouver, so I certainly understand that, but has he actually spoken to anybody in Vancouver in the marine community who knows what is happening on the ground to understand what the impact will be of the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station? This is not about misleading anyone. This is about representing the impact that this will have on the city of Vancouver.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, it is perhaps an unfortunate question that the member has posed because I was in Vancouver this past weekend where I had the opportunity to speak to people at Coal Harbour, on English Bay, on the seawall in Stanley Park and in False Creek. I asked them all how they used the sea. I asked them all about their recreation. I asked them all if they had the full information about what has been happening on this front and on the improvements that are being made.

I would ask the hon. member a question in return. Has she mentioned in any of her public appearances that there are five Coast Guard auxiliary units in the area? Has she mentioned in any of her media opportunities that there has recently been the addition of three new 47-foot motor lifeboats? Does she know what the CCGS Cape Palmerston is? Does she know about the Cape Naden and the Cape Dauphin? Does she care to mention that the government is providing a rescue craft for Vancouver harbour, in addition to the other measures to consolidate that we are taking?

We have studied the issues and looked at the statistics. The experts in the Coast Guard have—

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member but I see many people rising to ask questions.

The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, since 2007 a government priority has been fixed wing search and rescue aircraft trying to replace the 50-year-old Buffalos that exist on the west coast. In addition to the ailing Hercules on the east coast, this has been back and forth between departments now for quite some time.

Perhaps this is a golden opportunity in this debate for the parliamentary secretary to bring forward plans about getting an airplane for search and rescue. What type of airplane does the government see as being most beneficial to our coasts?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, obviously this is an issue of great concern to the government. Fixed wing search and rescue has been discussed in this place and at the national defence committee. The hon. member for St. John's East has contributed strongly to that debate.

I can say that we have made more progress on that issue in recent years than we made in the previous decade. These aircraft would not be so old and so close to the end of their effective performance had we made these investments earlier.

I must note with regret that, in the whole nine years of the Liberal government that preceded our coming into office in 2006, there were no new procurements in this area.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, in his speech, the parliamentary secretary laid out a very clear case for why we should be looking at how to deliver services in a much more effective and efficient manner.

I come from an area where people certainly believe in putting money where their mouth is. We believe that priorities are backed up by actions.

Could the parliamentary secretary reconcile why the opposition parties would not support the government's economic action plan, which invests in Canada's Coast Guard?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I cannot reconcile it. It is idle to talk about better coordination and about rescuing Canadians when one is not prepared to invest in the capacity. That is what the government has done for six years now. That is what the Liberal Party absolutely failed to do in the area of fixed wing aircraft, which is what I was speaking about earlier. And the NDP votes against it every year.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I will respond to the issue raised by my hon. colleague, the member for St. John's East, regarding Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue services.

My colleague and I are in perfect agreement on one very important fact: saving lives is a top priority for the government and, indeed, for all federal departments and agencies.

I want to reiterate that Fisheries and Oceans Canada remains dedicated to the safety of all Canadians and to ensuring that timely and appropriate maritime search and rescue coordination and response services are available to all marines.

When Canadians took to the polls last year, they delivered a strong and clear mandate to their newly re-elected government, demanding efficiency and economic diligence. It is, therefore, our responsibility to streamline and focus service delivery and to deliver on our promise to Canadians.

The recent announcements relating to the Coast Guard search and rescue program are part and parcel of this and a positive step toward a streamlined and more efficient search and rescue program.

First, I will focus on the Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue system in general. I will then touch upon the recent announcements regarding the search and rescue program.

As the federal government, we are responsible for providing primary response to aeronautical distress incidents and maritime search and rescue incidents in the Canadian area of responsibility on the oceans and in Canadian waters of the Great Lakes, which is in my riding, and the St. Lawrence River system.

The hon. Minister of National Defence is the lead for the overall search and rescue program, while the provinces and territories are responsible for all ground search and rescue responses.

Maritime search and rescue, which falls under the responsibility of the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, accounts for 85% of search and rescue incidents in Canada. Services include searching for and providing assistance to people, ships or other craft that are or are believed to be in imminent danger.

In Canada, there are three search and rescue regions, each associated with a joint rescue coordination centre that h are jointly operated and staffed by the Department of National Defence and Canadian Coast Guard personnel. Historically, they were complemented by two marine rescue sub-centres in St. John's and Quebec City operated by Coast Guard search and rescue coordinators. The primary difference at the sub-centres is that the search and rescue coordinators are required to call on either joint rescue coordination centre Trenton or joint rescue coordination centre Halifax to request the assistance of air resources when required.

The search and rescue program maintains a few essential services, such as coordinating and delivering on-water response to maritime search and rescue cases, supporting the safety of life at sea, assisting the Royal Canadian Air Force in providing response capacity to aeronautical cases and managing partnerships essential for the efficient coordination of response services. Each rescue centre has a range of search and rescue aircraft, helicopters and primary search and rescue vessels assigned on a standby posture, and these can be tasked directly by the coordinators on duty. In addition, the joint rescue coordination centres can call upon assistance from either of two volunteer organizations: the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association and the Canadian Coast Guard auxiliary, the Coast Guard's volunteer partner in search and rescue.

It is important to emphasize the value of the Coast Guard auxiliary as a critical partner that makes valuable contributions to maritime search and rescue missions. The Coast Guard auxiliary has a total of approximately 1,100 vessels across the country and approximately 4,000 volunteers. In fact, the auxiliary participates in almost 23% of all search and rescue missions and is, in some cases, the sole responder.

Our coordinators at the rescue centres who make the important decision as to what resource is most appropriate to task in a given situation are professional, trained and resourceful. The maritime search and rescue coordinators occasionally also contract commercial resources to expedite the evacuation of an injured survivor from an incident site.

The search and rescue region commanders also have access to Canadian Forces ships and other aircraft and can bring them to bear in search and rescue case resolution if necessary.

Annually, the three Canadian joint rescue coordination centres handle more than 8,000 cases, almost equally distributed among them with the majority of approximately 6,000 being marine in nature.

The Canadian Coast Guard component of the search and rescue program includes two units. The first is the primary search and rescue units. These units are composed of large coast guard vessels dedicated to search and rescue, lifeboat stations and inshore rescue boats. There are 24 inshore rescue boat stations across the country that operate in the busy summer season. The second unit, our secondary search and rescue units, are large coast guard or fisheries vessels which have another program as their primary mandate, such as science, and a secondary mandate for the provision of search and rescue.

In addition to the primary and secondary search and rescue units, the coast guard also relies greatly on aeronautical resources from the Royal Canadian Air Force, other resources from the Canadian Coast Guard auxiliary volunteer response units and vessels of opportunity, which is any vessel close enough to provide assistance to a vessel in distress which can be called upon under the Canadian Shipping Act and international law.

It is clear that maritime search and rescue relies highly on a system of resources and partners at many levels, including the coast guard, Canadian Forces, vessels of opportunity, Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, local responders, such as the RCMP and local police, and the Canadian Coast Guard auxiliary volunteers.

The coast guard strategically places its assets where risks are highest. The coast guard operates 41 lifeboat stations around Canada's coastlines south of 60°, each with a radius of influence of some 50 nautical miles. In addition, there are 24 inshore rescue boat stations, with 20 nautical mile radius of influence at 45 knot speeds. These boats are seasonally based according to pleasure craft activity levels.

In Canada, we also expect that members of the public, our search and rescue customers, so to speak, act responsibly and take appropriate precautions to prepare for the unexpected.

We will not deny that there needs to be adequate resources to respond in the event of an incident. However, these resources can come from all possible sources, not simply government provided, but those of other citizens or the commercial sector that are available to effect a rescue in a timely and effective manner. Our coast guard search and rescue coordinators will always task the closest resource to respond to a vessel in distress and task all available resources when the situation warrants it.

I know the federal maritime search and rescue program will always face the challenge of achieving the right balance between enhancing the chances of survival while applying adequate effort to do so, within constrained costs to the public.

In fact, the coast guard carefully considers the level of risk associated with the types of calls received when determining the appropriate mix of resources in a given area. We do, however, sometimes have to make the difficult decision to remove an asset or to streamline services to achieve efficiencies in how we provide our coordination and response services while protecting public safety. I can assure the House that we take these decisions very seriously.

In the last year we announced plans to consolidate the two marine rescue sub-centres in St. John's and Quebec City into the existing joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. We have now successfully consolidated the St. John's sub-centre into the joint rescue coordination centre, Halifax. As we are committed to ensuring safety, a solid implementation team was put in place to address all the necessary requirements before we finalized the consolidation. We are continuing to address the requirements of consolidating the sub-centre in Quebec into the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. We will only consolidate fully when we are confident that levels of service can be maintained.

Recently we also announced our intention to consolidate search and rescue services in the greater Vancouver area. The Kitsilano lifeboat station is the only lifeboat station located in a major port, and is just 17 nautical miles away from the Sea Island hovercraft station.

After the closure of the Kitsilano station, the following mix of search and rescue resources will provide the same level of search and rescue services in greater Vancouver--

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member but his time has elapsed. He might be able to make a few additional comments during questions and comments.

Questions and comments.

The hon. member for St. John's East.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member would like to comment. I do not know how much he knows about the Vancouver situation. I was out there last week and met with a lot of people. They are not improving the situation. They are in fact taking away 12 full-time direct rescue people who can get in the water in response to a call one or two minutes after receiving it. They are replacing them with volunteers and a seasonal rescue boat operated by students and summer people located at a station some miles away. That is not an improvement at all and just because it is the only one, that does not mean it is not necessary in saving lives each and every day.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, the member is correct. I do not know a lot about Vancouver. I have been there once. However, what I do know a lot about is this government. I do know a lot about the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I do know a lot about the parliamentary secretary. I do believe the words they are saying. I have done my research. I know what we have invested as a government in search and rescue in British Columbia, and that in itself tells me that these are the right decisions that we are making.

In terms of some of those investments, as a government, we have invested $175 million in the Canadian Coast Guard to procure 68 new small vessels and 30 environmental barges and to undertake major repair work on 40 of its largest vessels. Many of these investments have benefited the mariners in British Columbia and the vessels that serve them.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would speak a bit about the consolidation of the two marine rescue sub-centres with the joint rescue coordination centre. Would he talk a bit about the efficiencies and the effectiveness of this consolidation?

When we listen to the opposition it is all doom and gloom. Obviously, there are some efficiencies, some benefits, that are going to come from this. Would the hon. member outline some of those benefits?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, in my role as a CGA, one of the things I focus on, and have focused on, is efficiencies and duplication of service. In this particular case, with these consolidations, we are aligning expert resources, those of DND, those of our coast guard, and those of search and rescue coordination, to ensure effective and more efficient search and rescue operations.

This would ensure that those involved in search and rescue can work alongside one another in a more focused and collaborative environment, which is very important.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Madam Speaker, can the member tell me what motivated these major changes to Canada's Coast Guard? What studies were they based on? Who was consulted about this?

I would like to know what evidence and what consultations were taken into account in the decision to make these cuts to Canadian Coast Guard centres.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services
Business of Supply
Government Orders

June 6th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, the motivation is straightforward. The motivation is efficiency. The motivation is Canadian taxpayers and the effective use of their taxpayer dollars. That is the motivation.

In terms of consultations, the coast guard consulted its Canadian federal search and rescue partners on its modernization and reorganization of assets. That is what this is. This is a modernization and reorganization of assets. What is being done is totally appropriate and safety will absolutely not be compromised.