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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 agreements.

Topics

Search and RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative 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 RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative 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 Accordingly, the notice is deemed withdrawn.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 RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:05 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP 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 RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:10 a.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary 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 RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:15 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP 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 RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative 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 RescueAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 12:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative 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.)