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 centre.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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

June 6th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

The Liberal Party has argued for the last year against cuts to vital search and rescue operations in St. John's and Quebec and has argued that such cuts would endanger lives. In spite of this warning, the government recently announced the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver, B.C.

This comes on top of the closure of major marine communications stations in British Columbia in Vancouver, Comox and Tofino, leaving only Victoria and Prince Rupert to regulate traffic and give early warning to the longest coastline and some of the most treacherous waters in Canada.

The irony, obviously lost on the government, is that it is spending millions of dollars to celebrate 50 years of the Canadian Coast Guard while cutting $79 million in resources, eliminating up to 763 positions and stretching Coast Guard regions from five to three, leaving fewer rescuers to cover more ground when responding to emergencies.

I do not know how that makes sense. I do not know how one can celebrate a Coast Guard and then go and gut it and cut it.

Indeed, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is quoted as saying, “Our government is proud of the Canadian Coast Guard, and of the men and women who provide critical services to Canadians every day”. Then he cut those critical services. It makes no sense to me.

My colleague will speak to the issues facing search and rescue in the Atlantic. I would like to direct my attention to my province of British Columbia and what the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver would mean.

First and foremost, this is an irresponsible, short-sighted and reckless endangerment of life. Combined with the cutting of marine communications in British Columbia, this decision will sever vital marine links that serve British Columbia.

In spite of protestations from the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages that this decision to close the Kitsilano base was made with broad consultation, it was not. There was no consultation with the B.C. Coast Guard itself. There was no consultation with the province. There was no consultation with the City of Vancouver. There was no consultation with the auxiliary coast guard resources, nor was there any consultation with the communities that are going to be affected by this closure. This was a decision made in Ottawa by the Department of National Defence, with no understanding of the needs of the people on our coast.

This in fact prompted the British Columbia government to formally protest the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and to ask the Conservative government to reverse its decision. B.C. justice minister Shirley Bond said, “Protecting public safety must be a guiding principle for all budget exercises”.

In a motion last week, the City of Vancouver's city council expressed its opposition to the closures and urged the federal government to reverse them, saying “The closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard search and rescue station is another marine safety service for Vancouver being eliminated by the federal government, along with the recently announced closure of the Coast Guard communications centre in Vancouver and the B.C. command centre for emergency oil spills”.

The idea of emergency oil spills needs to be taken into consideration.

The City of Vancouver council continued, “Any response to increased risk to marine public safety due to federal cutbacks may be borne by the City's first responders, such as the VPD's marine unit”.

Financial costs are going to be downloaded to the city, which does not have the ability to put in the proper resources or to have the finances to do it. Not only that, it was never even given the courtesy of a discussion beforehand.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Vancouver police boats cannot respond to an on-sea incident, only ones that affect and are linked to the shore. Even if the city were rolling in money and wanted to put forward VPD boats, it could not do it because it has no authority over that area.

Even Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative fisheries and environment minister, John Fraser, opposes this move.

Here are the facts. The Port of Vancouver is the busiest port in Canada. It costs approximately $900,000 a year to run the Kitsilano station. By comparison, the federal government could operate the Kitsilano Coast Guard station for over 130 years for the cost of just one F-35 fighter jet.

I want members to also know that the Kitsilano Coast Guard station serves five million people who come through the port each year. It responds to over 350 emergency calls annually.

It serves a large area that spreads up Salmon Arm, up the Burrard Inlet, through the areas of False Creek. This is an area that is not only a port that has cargo ships and cruise ships come through it regularly. It is also an area where there are fisheries and fishery vessels. I have one of the largest fisheries in False Creek. People go up to the salmon run. Last Sunday people drove by and hooted their horns in support of the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano. That is where they turn to when they are in distress.

It also serves oil tankers that will go through the harbour. In fact, there has been a decision by the Department of Transport to double the number of tankers going through the port of Vancouver, which is an accident waiting to happen. This is what we are talking about when we are talking about the port of Vancouver.

The response time from the Kits Coast Guard station to anything going on in the port is six minutes. Kits is strategically located and it can get to Richmond where the government is moving the Coast Guard station, but it can also get up to the northern areas where there is Salmon Arm and the Burrard Inlet, which is even further to get to from Sea Island in Richmond. We are talking about an additional 30 minutes to an hour if we continue to use the Sea Island station.

This is not about central calls. This is not about coordination. It is about an actual boat, or a hovercraft, or plane going out to the problem or a firebird that is there to deal with an issue.

I was there about 15 years ago when the Coast Guard station, which was a wooden station, caught on fire because of a boat that went out of control and blew up right next to the harbour. The fire spread rapidly. This whole area is populated by people who live all along that coastal area along Kits and moving up that area. If we had to wait for something to come from Sea Island, members have no idea how much of the Lower Mainland in Kitsilano area would have been devastated with the loss of lives.

I want people to understand the nature of what they are dealing with here. I would like members to go to Vancouver. I would like the parliamentary secretary and the minister to go to the Kits Coast Guard station, travel up Burrard Inlet and see what the distance is. A hovercraft could not do it.

This is putting people's lives in danger.

Perhaps the government will eventually realize that it has made a mistake after someone dies. If we look at listeriosis and Walkerton, it is obvious the government has to wait for that to happen before it does anything. Why must it always take a tragedy for the government to back down and realize it made a mistake.

In this area there are paddlers, kayakers, sailors, powerboats, personal watercrafts, cruise ships, cargo vessels and float planes all competing for the same space. There will be emergencies and instead of waiting for six minutes, they will be waiting for an hour.

I want to close by quoting retired Coast Guard David Howell, who worked in Kitsilano station for 37 years. He said it best when he said:

You got the Heritage Minister telling me that safety is not affected and I got 30,000 SAR calls under my belt and I am telling you that it is, now you choose which one you want to believe but I will tell you one thing, and you can take it to the bank, safety is being affected. It will end up costing lives, there is no doubt in my mind what so ever and I don't have a penny to earn no matter if that station opens or closes...Incompetent to the level that I believe it is border line criminal I mean this is so foolish as to make me almost...I get a knot in my stomach and almost want to throw up...its ridiculous.

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

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to tell us more about what long-term effects she believes will result from the cuts to the Coast Guard Services.

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

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question because at the end of the day this is not about saving money, as the province of British Columbia pointed out, when we take into consideration the cost of life. It is about understanding the area being served. This is not about somebody in Ottawa making a decision that will be cost effective and all that nonsense. This is about knowing the terrain. It is about understanding how close people live to the shoreline in British Columbia. It is about understanding that this is an area that serves 1.3 million people and more. It is about looking at the cost of life. The people in that whole area are up in arms. Everyone is speaking out. Everyone is upset. Everyone is concerned. Everyone is angry.

I referred to the fire that occurred 15 years ago, which could have taken out huge blocks in our city if the Coast Guard was not there to do something about it immediately, not an hour later, not 30 minutes later.

This is about one thing. It is about human life in one of the crowdest and most busiest ports in Canada.

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

4:45 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, while I thank my colleague from Vancouver Centre for her attempt, there were so many inaccuracies in her speech that I hardly know where to start. For one thing, her speech was so full of fear-mongering that she really should be embarrassed. Pretending that a station at Kitsilano is going to deal with oil tankers coming down the B.C. coast is just ludicrous, ridiculous at least.

The minister and I have probably been on many more Coast Guard ships and at more Coast Guard stations than she has. Has the member ever visited a Coast Guard auxiliary station and talked to those people who are well trained and who put their lives at risk on behalf of Canadians for no money? We provide money so they can have the proper equipment to help them with that. Has she ever visited there?

The member referred to Salmon Arm. It is actually Indian Arm. Salmon Arm is in the interior, the place of my birth. There is one there and there is one at Howe Sound, so they cover the area up to the Lions Gate Bridge, both from different directions. There are three others in the area. I wonder if she knows that. I also wonder if the member has ever visited them.

Did the member miss the point that we are putting in place this new inshore rescue boat station which is used throughout the country in a very effective way and will be able to respond to exactly the kinds of things to which she is referring?

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

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the question. I just wish that when members across the way ask questions, they will try not to be so personal and insulting. It does not get them anywhere. If they have a point to make, they should make it.

The bottom line is I do know. I live in Kitsilano. I live near the Coast Guard station. I was there when the fire occurred and I saw it. I know this area.

I could not care whether the member has been on 59 boats in his life, or marine boats, or defence boats, or whatever. I am talking about a reality that affects everybody. I talked to the auxiliary people who do not feel that they were able to cope.

The member should not ask me if I have been to an auxiliary. That does not make any point. The auxiliary people have said openly that they cannot take on the problems that will occur if something goes on.

I did not suggest that the Coast Guard conduct oil tanker traffic. However, by closing the marine communications centre in Vancouver, the oil spills response in Vancouver and increasing the number of tanker traffic will be an accident waiting to happen. There is going to be a fire, people are going to be hurt. That is where the Coast Guard comes in. It does not have anything to do with tankers. Therefore, try not to be so obtuse in future.

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

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I assure the hon. member that I will not be obtuse. I would remind hon. members that they should direct their comments through the Chair.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received which is as follows:

ORDERED: That a message be sent to the House of Commons to acquaint that House that the Senate do agree with the House of Commons in the following Address:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty the Queen in the following words:

TO THE QUEEN'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY;

MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN:

We, Your Majesty's loyal and dutiful subjects, the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada in Parliament assembled, beg to offer our sincere congratulations on the happy completion of the sixtieth year of Your reign.

The People of Canada have often been honoured to welcome Your Majesty and other members of the Royal Family to our land during Your reign, and have witnessed directly Your inspiring example of devotion to duty and unselfish labour on behalf of the welfare of Your People in this country and in the other nations of the Commonwealth.

In this, the Diamond Jubilee year of your reign as Queen of Canada, we trust that Your gracious and peaceful reign may continue for many years and that Divine Providence will preserve Your Majesty in health, in happiness and in the affectionate loyalty of Your people.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the NDP motion, presented by my colleague, the member for St. John's East. This is an issue that all of us from Newfoundland and Labrador have addressed on numerous occasions because of our knowledge of how important search and rescue is, not only to Newfoundland and Labrador, but to people who have a need to access search and rescue services when they travel on the ocean around our province.

The idea of closing down the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, and the one in Quebec I might add, has been met with public outcry for a number of reasons, but certainly because of the impact it will have on safety. The work of MRSC St. John's and Quebec, when it closes in a year because Quebec has been given a one-year reprieve, will be consolidated and delivered by the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. However, given their already heavy caseload and the small number of search and rescue coordinators at these centres, it is unlikely they will be able to handle the increased workload caused by the St. John's and Quebec City closures.

Let me just speak to the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's. On average the centre has overseen 500 calls a year, many of them distress calls, resulting in approximately 600 lives saved annually. We are talking about life and death situations. The parliamentary secretary suggested that this was one way to deal with the deficit, a deficit that I might add has been created by the government, not by ordinary Canadians from coast to coast to coast, the largest deficit in our country's history. Now this will be handled on the backs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The problem we have with that is the government is really putting safety on the back burner, while it tries to deal with the deficit.

The reality is that in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular, we have so many coves and harbours, places where local knowledge and expertise is really important. Local knowledge of a dialect is critical. We have had examples in fact where people have been out and have made a distress call and because their dialect is such that if one were not familiar with the place names, one would have a hard time recognizing where they are located in order to be rescued.

Therefore, we cannot just take the positions out of Newfoundland and Labrador and move them to Halifax or Trenton. Bear in mind none of the search and rescue coordinators who work at the centre in St. John's, Newfoundland will actually move to either Trenton or Halifax. Therefore, that local knowledge and expertise and appreciation and understanding of the dialect is not moving. It is not going to be in Halifax and it is not going to be in Quebec.

We have another issue in Quebec because we have the French language. My understanding is that at this point in time the people are having difficulty finding coordinators who can speak French. On another front, they are also downgrading the qualifications of people who would have been expected to come with very high qualifications prior to the closure of the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's and Quebec. They will now be employed with many fewer qualifications. This is a serious issue and one that I can speak to because I know the public outcry. I know that people are naturally nervous.

When I say it is the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, this does not only apply to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Do not forget, Newfoundland is now an oil producing province. Off our shores we have oil platforms. There are people working on those platforms from every part of this world. Therefore, it is not just Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who we are speaking about here.

It is the same with tourists who are coming from all over the world. When we talk about safety, it is their safety that is being put in peril as well. People tend to think that it only applies to fishers. That is absolutely not true. Yes, of course our fishers need assistance when they get in trouble and yes they are the ones with the local dialect that when they need to be rescued, they really need to have that local knowledge there. However, when we have oil platforms off our coast, a vibrant tourism industry, then closing down research centres will impact dramatically those people as well. It will put their lives at risk.

I cannot say it enough. What we are talking about here is safety. While we need to deal with the deficit as the government has said, there are so many other avenues it can go down to deal with the deficit, one being the F-35, another being the megaprisons it is looking at building. However, to even draw a comparison between those and search and rescue safety issues does not make sense.

I have to question the government's understanding of and appreciation for exactly what it is doing here. I cannot believe that it would do this with a full understanding and appreciation of what it would mean .

I want to quote the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke when she commented on the use of search and rescue by mariners on the Atlantic. She said that in Ontario they would never ever think of calling the Coast Guard for help if they found themselves in trouble on the Ottawa River. Can anyone imagine comparing being on the Ottawa River with being on the Atlantic Ocean?

That is why I have to question whether or not the government really understands what it is doing here. If the example is that people on the Ottawa River would never think of calling the Coast Guard, that they would help themselves, I would love to see the member out in the middle of the North Atlantic needing to be rescued, but saying, “No, we're not going to call the Coast Guard. We're going to help ourselves”.

There is no understanding, no appreciation of the volatility of the weather. It can change in a minute. This is what people are exposed to when they are on the North Atlantic. This is what people experience when they are out fishing. This is what people experience when they are out on the oil platforms. This is what people experience sometimes when they are travelling on Marine Atlantic and are stuck trying to get into port, or they cannot leave North Sydney to go to Newfoundland and Labrador because the weather conditions are such that they cannot cross. They can be out in the middle of the ocean and they will have to stop because of the weather conditions.

It does not make sense to me. When I hear a quote like that from a member of the government, I have to wonder where the advice is coming from. Then maybe that is where it is coming from. Maybe there are others in the government who think that way, who have no idea of the role of search and rescue, who have no understanding of what it is like to be in distress, who have no idea of what it is like to travel on the Atlantic Ocean.

I am making a plea to whoever is making the decisions in the government. Even though it has closed the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, even though the SAR coordinators, who have done a wonderful job, who are so experienced, who have given so much, who have devoted their lives to this, who know exactly what is required when someone gets in trouble, have been laid off, I am asking the government to reconsider. This has to be one of the worst decisions it has ever made because this will, without a doubt, result in the loss of life. Nobody, but nobody, would want that to be the outcome of this particular decision.

The SAR coordinators know exactly what they are doing. My fear is that because the government or the centre in Halifax or the one in Trenton is having difficulty attracting those with the qualifications necessary to do the work that is required in the search and rescue centre, they will downgrade those qualifications. That will make it even more difficult. That means that people on the ocean will not be able to have that sense of comfort that there will be someone there if they should be in distress and need to be rescued.

This is such an important issue. This decision needs to be reconsidered, because loss of life is imminent if this decision is not changed.

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

5 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that my father was an Acadian from Nova Scotia and that I was lucky to visit that province quite often. It was home to my ancestors and I still have family there.

I have not yet had the opportunity to go to Newfoundland, but there is something absolutely fascinating about the Maritimes. The Nova Scotia coastline is very dangerous. My colleague who moved this motion described it very well. There are a great many small bays where all kinds of vessels can get into trouble.

I would like to ask my Liberal colleague to talk about the long-term consequences of closing these Coast Guard centres.

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

5 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the member, having been to the Atlantic provinces, has a sense of exactly how difficult the coastline with its many coves, harbours and bays is for the mariners and other people who are on the ocean, such as people on the oil platforms, and tourists travelling on Marine Atlantic. It is not just the coastline that is an issue in terms of safety. There are many bays.

For example, in the riding of Random—Burin—St. George's there are seven isolated communities. Those communities can only be accessed by ferry. There are those, of course, who get there by helicopter for medical services if care is needed, but by and large, people in isolated communities travel on ferries or use their own boats. If search and rescue is not available—

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

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I do not wish to interrupt the hon. member, but time is limited and I know there are other hon. members who wish to pose questions.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

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

5 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, this may come as no shock, but I want to congratulate my colleague on her wonderful speech, not because we are sitting in the same area, but because she has been a strong advocate for this issue.

Earlier the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans made a few comments, and the logic is really quite puzzling. He mentioned that co-location is such a wonderful thing when it comes to moving St. John's to Halifax. If we take that to its logical conclusion, we would also put Halifax into Trenton given that co-location is such a wonderful thing. Yet that is not done and the reason is for knowledge of local geography.

The other interesting part is that his colleagues went to the centre they closed down and loved it. They thought it was a fantastic asset for search and rescue, but I guess they forgot to give the message that it is a wonderful asset to use.

I would like my colleague to talk about the fact that the government never got any input as to what local expertise can provide, such as individuals like Merv Wiseman in Newfoundland and Labrador, whom the member knows. I wonder if she could comment on that and the conversations she has had with local experts there.

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

5 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the problem with the decision the government has taken is that there was absolutely no consultation with those who have local knowledge and expertise. There was no consultation with the province. The premier was blindsided by this. How can the government possibly close down a search and rescue centre in a province like Newfoundland and Labrador, a portion of which is an island, and not understand the consequences or not want to know the consequences of doing that?

To suggest that co-location will work is suggesting that the search and rescue coordinators in Halifax and Trenton do not already have a heavy caseload, which is not my understanding. Now we are going to load even more work on them, putting at risk the time they can expend if they happen to get three or four calls instead of one looking for search and rescue.