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

Bill C-25—Notice of time allocation motion
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

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

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, our government remains focused on jobs, growth and the long-term economic security of Canadians. That includes planning for their retirement and ensuring that Canadians do have a secure retirement. Bill C-25, the pooled registered pension plans act, will create a new low-cost plan for these Canadians to help them save for their retirement.

In the last election, we committed to implementing this bill as soon as possible. It has been over a year since the election and Canadians expect the government to keep its commitments. Thus, it is with regret that I must advise that an agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) concerning the proceedings at third reading of C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at that stage.

Bill C-24—Notice of time allocation motion
Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, while I am on my feet, I might add that I did have the great pleasure of being Canada's international trade minister in representing Canada around the world. On May 14, 2010, in that role, I signed the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement. This agreement will help Canadian businesses create jobs and economic growth through expanded exports, but only if it becomes law.

It has been 754 days since I signed that agreement. Unfortunately, we have had an opposition that is ideologically opposed to free trade and unwilling to let the bill get to a vote. Thus, I regretfully again must advise that an agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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

6:05 p.m.

NDP

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

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

The motion before this honourable House today says that the government must recognize that saving lives is the top priority for Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue services. This motion is much like the motion that was debated in the House just weeks ago. That motion called for Canada to adopt an international search and rescue readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, around the clock, for the military's search and rescue Cormorant helicopters.

The response time for a Cormorant helicopter varies depending on the time of day. Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, the wheels-up response time for a Cormorant helicopter is 30 minutes. After 4 p.m., on weekends and during holidays, the wheels-up response time is up to two hours. Needless to say, that response time has cost mariners their lives. A fire department would never operate that way. People would revolt. It would make no sense because people would most surely die. People have died on the water because of the search and rescue response time policy. In fact, according to the CBC's The Fifth Estate, there have been nine cases in the last eight years alone where people died waiting for search and rescue that did not come quickly enough.

The Conservatives voted against that motion. The previous motion calling for Canada to adopt a 30-minute around-the-clock response time and the motion before the House now are about saving the lives of mariners, about how saving lives should be a top priority. That is the common theme: saving the lives of mariners.

Why did the Conservatives vote against that motion at the end of April if lives would have been saved because of it? I will tell members why. I have a quote from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, who we heard just a few minutes ago. He stated:

We also do not think it is the place of the House, this member, or other members to determine what the actual response times of the Canadian Forces, or any other body, ought to be on these matters.

I will repeat that quote:

We also do not think it is the place of the House, this member, or other members to determine what the actual response times of the Canadian Forces, or any other body, ought to be on these matters.

I could not believe it when I heard him say that it is not the place of the House to debate a search and rescue policy of the Canadian Forces that impacts the lives of Canadian mariners, that it is not the place of the House to debate an adequate search and rescue response policy that has been directly linked to the deaths of Canadian mariners, that it is not the place of the House to debate a search and rescue response policy that the Conservative government is reluctant to change because of the associated cost. How much is a life worth? Can the Conservatives give us a cost breakdown? Is that in the Conservatives' action plan?

I say it is our place to stand up for Canadians who cannot stand up for themselves or to stand up for any injustice on land or on water. It is our place to stand up when a policy falls short of protecting the Canadians it was instituted to protect. It is our place.

Here we are today debating another motion stating that the government must recognize that saving lives is the top priority for Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue services. I cannot believe we are actually debating this. How the Conservatives can argue this is beyond me. The next part of the motion before us reads, “that local service and knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate in the language of the communities served, are essential to delivering effective and timely life-saving operations...”.

Closing the maritime rescue sub-centre in my riding of St. John's South--Mount Pearl, more specifically on the south side of St. John's harbour, was the wrong move. It was the wrong move because those distress calls are now directed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, or Trenton, Ontario.

I do not know if anyone has noticed, but Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have unique accents. Most Canadians know that. Myself, I am not so lucky to have a full-blown Newfoundland accent, although we all sound different on the wharf. Many mariners are not so easy to understand unless one is from the place. If a ship is going down and there are mere seconds to send off a mayday, a mainlander would have a hard time understanding a person from Outport, Newfoundland and Labrador, who is also probably over-excited, facing a life or death situation. A mainlander would have a hard time pinpointing the various locations around Newfoundland and Labrador on a map. There are countless sea coves and countless Bell Islands, so local service and knowledge and the ability to communicate in the language of the communities served are essential. They are more than essential, they are critical. They are more than critical, it is a matter of life and death.

It was bad enough the Conservatives closed the maritime rescue sub-centre in my riding, directing distress calls again to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Trenton, Ontario. How did the Conservatives next fail our mariners? I will give the House an unbelievable example.

Medical calls for help from ships off Newfoundland and Labrador, and only off Newfoundland and Labrador, were routed 5,000 miles away to Italy. That is right. The calls were being directed to a Rome-based non-profit organization that has been described as the soup kitchen of telehelp. It was bad enough the Conservatives closed the maritime rescue sub-centre in my riding, but mainlanders, let alone Italians, have a hard enough time understanding the people where I come from.

Our search and rescue response times are among the worst in the world. That is not debatable. Our mariners have died waiting for help that did not come, and so did 14-year-old Burton Winters of Makkovik, Labrador.

The Conservative government has written off our fishery and now our mariners. The resentment toward the Conservative government is growing and will continue to grow unless the Conservative government changes tack and drops its defeatist attitude toward the east coast.

The last part of today's motion calls on the Conservative government to reverse the decision to close the maritime search and rescue coordination centres in St. John's and Quebec City as well as the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano, Vancouver.

I have had conversations with former employees of the maritime search and rescue coordination centre in St. John's. I have heard these former employees say that lives will be lost. I ask members on the other side to hear me: lives will be lost because of the Conservative government's decision.

These former employees know what they are talking about. They have worked on the front lines for decades at the rescue sub-centre. These front-line employees know the coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador like the backs of their hands. These front-line employees know the dialects of Newfoundland and Labrador. We must keep in mind that accents can be different from one cove to the next cove. These front-line employees are familiar with the hundreds of communities that dot our coastline. They know many of the men and women who ply the waters. They know not just the mariners but their friends and their relatives. That on-the-ground knowledge is critical in a search and rescue situation, where seconds seem like hours, where hours seem like days, and if it is days, well, the person would probably be dead.

I implore members of the House to vote for the motion, to vote for saving lives, to vote for making the saving of lives the top priority above saving money, above petty politics.

I implore the government to reverse its decision and to do the right thing. Show the mariners of Newfoundland and Labrador, show the mariners of Atlantic Canada, show mariners all over Canada that it knows where its priorities are, so that in the words of our late leader Jack Layton, no one is left behind on land or on water, no one is left behind.

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

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, I have come to know the hon. member through the fisheries committee. He certainly brings a lot of sincerity and a lot of passion to any cause that he gets behind.

We know how important the funding for refitting and the new vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard is to enable the Canadian Coast Guard to continue doing its job. When the hon. member stands here tonight and says he implores people to vote for the motion, I would implore him to vote for the budget so that we can see that funding flow so that those people can have the tools to do the job that he so rightly sets as a priority.

Would the hon. member do the right thing and vote to ensure that those people in the Canadian Coast Guard have the right tools to do the job?

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

6:20 p.m.

NDP

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

Madam Speaker, the hon. member opposite is from the Maritimes, from New Brunswick, if I am correct, so I cannot believe I actually have to say this. He is from a maritime province that is near the water, but the quickest way to get to a ship or a person in distress on the water is not by a Coast Guard ship, it is by Cormorant helicopter. That is the quickest way. If there is a two-hour response time after 4 p.m., and on weekends and holidays, and a 30-minute response time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., how can he say that is okay? How can he stand up and argue for it?

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

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to compliment the member on his intervention on this important issue. I wonder if he would comment on the closure of the St. John's and Quebec City rescue centres. When all three are operating, there are six rescue coordinators on duty and when the government finishes its handiwork, if it does not change its mind, there will only be three coordinators dealing with the entire area. All of the rescue missions will be coordinated through one centre. Does the member think that having half as many people will cause problems, as well as having everything handled by one place?

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

6:20 p.m.

NDP

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

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the motion that he presented and argued before this House at the end of April and for today's motion. These motions are critical for all of Canada, for all our maritime provinces.

The answer to his question is obviously yes. If they cut the number of personnel at these rescue sub-centres in half, from six to three, and they are expected to handle the same number of cases in a given number of hours and on top of that they have to deal with things that I mentioned in my speech, such as particular dialects on the east coast and the geography of the communities that dot our coastline, it is going to be an impossible situation.

I had a conversation with a retired employee of the rescue sub-centre in St. John's a little while ago. He said that it is a matter of time before lives are lost.

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

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has the floor. I must inform her that I will have to interrupt her in about seven minutes at 6:30 p.m.

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

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak to this opposition motion. As a former Canadian Forces member and emergency and intensive care nurse, I have a good understanding of what happens during distress situations. That is why it is so important to me to express my thoughts on this issue.

This motion is about two factors that are critical to effective service: knowledge of the local situation and services and the ability to communicate in the primary language of the community served.

In search and rescue, in life or death situations, every minute counts. Three minutes can mean the difference between saving a life and recovering a body. This is very real. This is human life.

I will be more specific about the ability to communicate in the community's language. I would like to speak more about the Quebec City search and rescue centre, the only bilingual centre in Canada, whose closure could mean that people in anglophone regions will respond to emergency calls. As a result, even if these people are bilingual, if they live in an anglophone region, it is extremely difficult for them to keep up their language skills. For example, in Halifax, only 3% of the population speaks French and only 4.7% of the population does in Trenton. So it is very difficult for a person to maintain good language skills when living in an anglophone community, even if they start out bilingual or even francophone.

Members must understand that if people do not regularly speak French, they forget some of the common and colloquial expressions that people will use. That can be a problem because during a distress call, people do not speak properly. They panic. They use unusual expressions. They will say, for example, that their boyfriend is bleeding out—pisser le sang—and that they need someone there right away—au plus sacrant. It will not be proper French. I apologize if the words I used were not very clear.

It is also important to understand that, during distress calls, there may be interference on the line and people will have accents that may be very different. They may be ill or having a heart attack. Imagine a situation where a person is already just barely getting by in French and, in addition to interference on the line, the caller is speaking with an accent and is very out of breath because he is having a heart attack. It would be very difficult to understand the caller. That is why it is essential that a francophone centre be kept in a francophone region.

I would also like to specify that, even though I am bilingual—I am able to understand all of my hon. colleagues here—if one of my colleagues were speaking to me in English and was out of breath because he was having a heart attack and there was interference on the radio, there is a good chance that I would have trouble understanding that person and that I would have to get him to spell words because I would not be sure that I understood him correctly. There would thus be a delay in acting to save that person's life.

I would like to talk more about geography and knowledge of the local area. When people call, they are in a panic. They do not give precise directions. When people call because they are in distress, they rarely provide the ten numbers corresponding to their geographic coordinates. People use regional terms that can be hard to understand. For example, if I say that I live on the “rang de la Ferme Bordeleau”—the Bordeleau Concession—in Clerval, would any of my hon. colleagues understand me? No. But people in my region, in my community, would know exactly what I am talking about. Someone two or three provinces to the west would most likely have no clue and would have to ask me to repeat myself and be more precise.

In many cases, when people call because they are in distress, they provide information based on historical information. For example, they might say that they are close to where Mr. Faucher's boat sank five years ago. That will not mean much to someone from Trenton, but someone who lives and works in the community will remember the incident and will immediately know exactly what place the caller is talking about. That is more efficient and wastes less time.

Unfortunately, in other cases, children or teenagers call to report distress situations because the parent or grandparent they are with has suffered a medical emergency and is not doing well.

To begin with, if one does not understand the language well, and then, if the person trying to explain what is happening is an eight- or nine-year-old child, it could be a very difficult situation and precious time could be lost. Several factors must be considered.

I would remind all of my hon. colleagues that any time human lives are at stake, we cannot put a price tag on that. We are talking about human lives. In my opinion, there is no price on saving a life and I think that if we were talking about my hon. colleagues' children and spouses who were in distress, they would want previous governments that enforced the legislation and regulations to ignore the numbers and do whatever it takes to save as many lives as possible.

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

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 6:30 p.m., and today being the last allotted day for the supply period ending June 23, 2012, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the opposition motion.

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

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

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

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

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

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.