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--