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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

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am supporting this motion and plan to vote for it, but my question is, why did the NDP not include in the motion the ten marine communication service centres, which will also be cut at the same time?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, today's debate is on search and rescue, and we are addressing that very clearly.

It is important that the member share with us all of his concerns. There will be ample opportunity to criticize the government on a number of its decision when it comes to fisheries, and when it comes to oceans and protecting the lives of fishers and maritimers.

Today, though, we are speaking about search and rescue centres. It is very important that we address that matter clearly and make it clear that the government has made some terrible mistakes. Imperilling people's lives is simply never acceptable.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to speak to the motion moved by my colleague from St. John's East, a motion to maintain the services provided by search and rescue centres, including those in Quebec City and St. John's. Several times now, I have asked the minister to reconsider his decision to close the Quebec City and St. John's East centres and to move them to Halifax and Trenton, literally splitting them in two.

Every time I have asked the minister about this, he has refused to listen. He has never come to Quebec City to see what goes on there and talk to Canadian Coast Guard employees.

I agree with my colleagues on the subject of public consultations. Clearly the government did not listen to local people at all.

I have been following this story for a year now. Since last June, I have asked several questions in the House, held several press conferences, met with the people who work at the Quebec City centre and visited the centre to see what goes on there every day. I have also met with several organizations, elected officials and associations. Municipalities along the river, associations and organizations have passed over 117 resolutions. That is a lot. I still remember the day when there were just a few and I was the one telling them what was about to happen. Since then, everyone I talk to, all of those different associations cannot believe this terrible decision.

We have the support of a range of sectors including associations of recreational boaters, fishers, police, firefighters, shipowners, boating clubs and the list goes on.

The Quebec City centre is the country's only officially bilingual centre. Closing it will certainly be a very bad decision. This is about respect for francophones.

When it comes to the French language, I cannot mince words. I cannot overstate how important it is to fight for the preservation of the French language. We French-speaking Canadians have the right to be understood in our language. For instance, when it comes to distress calls regarding something that has happened on the waterways of the St. Lawrence River or the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we French-speaking Canadians have the right to be understood in our mother tongue. Even if one is bilingual, in situations of distress, it is easy to forget one's second language and one may not be able to speak at the same level, since we are talking about situations of distress. It is important to understand this.

I heard my colleagues from Newfoundland say that, sometimes, even anglophones do not understand Newfoundland English. Understandably, it is hard to justify going ahead with this decision. I cannot help but think of all the regional accents we have in Quebec alone. The Gaspé accent is different than the Saguenay accent. With so many accents, how will someone who barely speaks French be able to respond appropriately to what is being asked? I am sorry for having doubts, but I am not the only one who has them.

In addition to all of the support I have received over the past year, I have received considerable support from the Commissioner of Official Languages. The government did not take into account the Official Languages Act, and we are still awaiting the commissioner's final report. However, based on his analysis of the staff available in Nova Scotia and Ontario, the commissioner believes that getting a response in French cannot be guaranteed at all times. This is extremely disturbing. The government cannot simply say that it is concerned; it must take action accordingly.

Apart from the safety of francophones, I would also like to talk about knowledge of the waterway. If these centres close, particularly the Quebec City centre, we will lose very precious knowledge about this waterway. We are talking about many, many kilometres of shoreline. Certain tiny islands in the St. Lawrence are unknown to everyone else. They are not indicated on any maps; they do not necessarily have names; but for the people in this sector, when you talk about a given island, they know exactly which one you are talking about.

“Oh, that small island next to the town of such-and-such. That is where you are. We are coming.”

It is that kind of expertise that we are losing because of this bad decision. We cannot put a price on this knowledge of the seaway.

Let us be clear: this is not just a call centre that we are losing. In addition to being a rescue centre, it is also an ice research service. People have told me that they are worried about the rescue service, but many others have said that they are worried about the ice research service. Shipowners have talked to me about this because they use this ice research service.

Allow me to say a few words about the Ice Centre. The ice watchkeepers, who are coordinators from the Quebec Ice Centre and ice experts from Environment Canada, provide up-to-date information on ice conditions, routing advice and icebreaker support where available and considered necessary, and they organize convoys if required. This work is extremely important for marine traffic.

The Ice Centre coordinators are in contact with icebreakers at all times and follow the progress of the ships they are monitoring. The ice watchkeepers also maintain direct contact with shipping agents, shipowners, charterers and port authorities as needed. In addition, the Ice Patrol aircraft and the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa both work with Ice Operations Centres on a full-time basis throughout the ice navigation season. They can therefore coordinate everything.

That is in fact why the search and rescue centre in Quebec City was working throughout the year and could be extremely effective. It had expertise in both rescue and research. This centre has done a lot and continues to do a lot today because so far, it has been spared.

Just the thought of closing the Quebec City centre takes us back 35 years. In 1977, the government decided that the Quebec City centre had to be established because expertise was needed to serve francophones and also to expand our knowledge of the seaway. These are the reasons that led to the establishment of this centre 35 years ago. Now, suddenly, this is no longer important to this government. Suddenly, we will go back in time 35 years for I am not sure what reason. And the government will not save more money, that is for sure.

I would also like to make another very important point. The people who work at the Quebec City centre have forged important ties with the staff of Quebec's 911 emergency centres. When they put out a call to a certain place, they know that a specific 911 centre in Quebec will pick it up. They are able to coordinate the response and take action. All this expertise will be lost.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that they have not found people to fill the positions in Trenton. No one wants to go to Trenton, and it is very difficult to find francophones who want to go there. The government has decided to launch competition after competition and to lower the qualifications. Even senior management is concerned by how few specialized and bilingual candidates have expressed an interest in going to Trenton.

What are the logistical costs? We have no idea. To date, we do not know how much this decision has cost the government. It is not working, because the move will be delayed by a year. How much more will it cost? The government claims that the closures will result in savings, but there will be changes to make and a great deal of work to be done. It is going to be very expensive.

You cannot really put a price on people's safety. I cannot believe that the government is making these cuts. You cannot play Russian roulette with these services.

For that reason, I urge this government to support the motion in order to keep services in St. John's and Quebec City. As the member for Québec, I believe it is very important.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have just one point, and then I have a question.

As I said to my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, we are well aware of the preliminary report of the language commissioner, and that is why we are moving more slowly on this and making sure we have the necessary people in place.

It is certainly not impossible to do that. It sounds as though they are quite pessimistic about finding those kinds of people with those abilities. Whether it is people who take the transfer and move, or whether it is people who are found or trained, this transition will take place when that capability is in place.

The member makes it sound a little bit as though the person who takes the call puts down the phone, heads out the door, gets into a boat and makes the rescue. Surely she knows that it does not work like that. This is a communications function.

The same people who responded to an incident a year ago are going to be the people who respond a year from now, after this transition. I wonder if the member is aware of that.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question.

After speaking with the people in the community and those who work at the centre, I believe that this is much more than just a call centre. It is insulting to say that it is just a call centre. These people coordinate rescue missions. They call the fire department, the police and anyone else who needs to be called to coordinate the appropriate response and save lives. It is really much more than a call centre. That is the first thing.

With regard to francophones, when enough bilingual people could not be found to work at the centre in Trenton, a decision was made to reduce the qualifications and experience needed, to reduce the skills and official language requirements. That is insulting.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I note, with the member from Quebec, that the centre in Quebec and the one in St. John's were set up 35 years ago, in 1977, as specific, separate centres because of the need for local knowledge, whether of geography, maritime conditions or language. I would say language applies in both cases, but more so, I suppose, in the member's case.

What has changed after 35 years, so that instead of having six coordinators at one time, two in each of Quebec, St. John's and Halifax, there are now only going to be three serving the same area?

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, what a great question. What has changed? That is indeed the question. I think that what has changed is that we now have a majority Conservative government that believes that it can do whatever it wants and that does not listen to the local communities or the experts in this regard. We members of Parliament are merely representatives. We are here to represent our communities. We are here to bring forward their concerns in this chamber. We are hear to listen to them and to share their concerns in this House through worthwhile debate. And this is a debate worth pursuing. We are talking about maintaining services in St. John's East and Quebec City. If the Conservative government wants to show good faith and maintain its investments in safety, it would be appreciated.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Madam Speaker, if I remember correctly, our motto is “From sea to sea”. I think that what is going on now shows contempt for this beautiful motto that is so representative of Canada. It seems as though some nickel and diming is going on here. My colleague made an excellent speech, and I would like her to elaborate on the loss of expertise. I found it very interesting when she spoke about the loss of expertise when it comes to studying ice.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, so much direct and indirect expertise will be lost. We will lose the connections staff had made, as well as their qualifications and contacts.

I will conclude by reminding members that the universal marine rescue motto is “So others may live”. The coast guard in Quebec City is celebrating its 50th anniversary. In light of what is going on, this will be a very sad anniversary.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I will share my time with the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie.

To start, I would like to respond to my dear colleague, the hon. member for Québec. If it is simply a matter of mastering Canada's two official languages, does she truly believe that there are talented and qualified francophones only in Quebec City or in the province of Quebec?

In an Ontario riding like mine, about 7% to 8% of the population is francophone. The Trenton military base, in the Trenton region—very well represented by the member for Northumberland—Quinte West—has more than 2,000 people. There is a strong representation of francophones, with francophone families.

There are people with language abilities in all regions of the country, and especially in eastern Ontario, which is close to Quebec. This region is proud of its francophone roots, which date back to colonization. That is where the first villages and first forts were established under the French regime. Francophones are not found in just one province, the belle province of Quebec.

Now that I have answered that question, I would like to discuss the motion.

While the hon. members opposite are right to stress the singular importance of search and rescue to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Forces, they are absolutely wrong to suggest that the measures taken by this government are doing anything other than enhancing the safety and security of Canadians on the water and of mariners across this country, making our systems more effective and increasing the capacity of all the relevant agencies to meet the needs of Canadians, because—and this is my main point—it is this government that has invested in vessels for the Coast Guard, is renewing the Canadian navy and has given the Royal Canadian Air Force the aircraft that no party on the other side chose to invest in for well over a decade.

It is these capacities, platforms and tools that save Canadian lives on the sea, and not the fact that we have a dozen or half a dozen or three coordination centres across the country.

The members opposite are misleading Canadians in Vancouver, in Kitsilano and in Atlantic Canada. However, Canadians will not be fooled once they learn, as they have heard today from the parliamentary secretary for fisheries and oceans and as they will hear from many of us on this side, what is really happening with regard to the ability of these proud Canadian institutions to protect mariners at sea. The opposition must stop misleading Canadians.

Search and rescue is Canadian teamwork at its best, and I am here to talk about the Canadian Forces' role in that equation. However, there are many groups. We have heard about the Coast Guard. We have heard about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which does a superb job. There are also federal, provincial, territorial and municipal departments and agencies. There are first responders, community partners and industry partners, and more volunteers than ever because of this government's determination to promote a culture of volunteers.

I heard the member for St. John's East denigrating the capacities of our Coast Guard auxiliary, saying that it was not up to scratch compared to the full-time experts at Kitsilano.

I am sorry, and he is nodding his head, but that is shameful behaviour for a member for St. John's, for an island, part of a province that depends on the sea, where the culture of service and volunteerism has always been strong and where this government will remain absolutely committed to multiplying it, deepening it and bringing Canadians forward to look after their fellow mariners, because that is what every Canadian wants to do. It is a principle of our law and of our custom. It is in our history and our best traditions.

Harnessing what each of these actors has to offer can be complex, especially given the different stakeholders that are mandated to take the lead depending on the varying circumstances. Parks Canada leads rescue operations in our national parks and the Canadian Coast Guard takes the lead in maritime responses.

However, the Canadian Forces also plays a crucial role within this integrated system. It has primary responsibility for responding to search and rescue incidents involving downed aircraft. It also provides air support to the Canadian Coast Guard for incidents that occur at sea.

Given the size and diversity of this country, this division of labour makes perfect sense. It would be unreasonable to expect a single organization to be everywhere all the time or to have the assets and knowledge to deal effectively with every type of incident. By working in collaboration, each search and rescue partner contributes as it is best able and taking the lead in those areas where it has the most experience, expertise and resources.

I will emphasize again that the government has expanded the capacities, renewed vessels and is building new vessels for each of these institutions. We are supporting the police. We are giving tax credits to volunteer firefighters because we think that they are good, unlike the members opposite. Nevertheless, coordinating these various actors is a challenge, doubly so since each jurisdiction has its own mechanisms.

At the federal level, joint rescue coordination centres located in Victoria, Trenton and Halifax do excellent work in coordinating efforts. These centres are operated collaboratively by the Canadian Forces and the Coast Guard. We have found that having men and women from both of these organizations working shoulder-to-shoulder in the same location has been essential in ensuring that our military and Coast Guard assets are put to best use.

Do the members opposite understand what we are saying? The joint rescue coordination centre of the Coast Guard for Atlantic Canada will be alongside the maritime security operation centre where the lead is with the Royal Canadian Navy. We will have them co-located. What a novel idea.

In this day and age, yes, language and local knowledge play a role, but a much bigger role is played by technology, remote sensing and the networks that all of these organizations are part of but which need to be brought into play when someone goes missing at sea. We will not find all of these networks coming together and exchanging information, using all the technology available to them at 20 different locations in Atlantic Canada or 5 different locations in Ontario in central Canada. We need to integrate in one place.

I was at a conference in Halifax yesterday delivering a speech for the Minister of National Defence who, as everyone knows, was outside of the country, where flag officers from 15 different countries came to Halifax for the maritime security conference. This was the first time the conference was held outside of Europe and the first time in Canada. Our military maritime security operations centre was the envy of that group, which had representatives from the United States, several European countries and several from other parts of the world. They had never seen this level of integration that included the Coast Guard, naval assets and air assets to look after our huge territory of land and sea in any of their countries.

It is not happenstance that we are consolidating and integrating. It is with a drive to which we are absolutely dedicated to give better service to Canadians.

The Canadian Forces deploy assets in response to about 1,100 of the approximately 9,000 search and rescue incidents reported every year. We have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that it is much higher for the Canadian Coast Guard. However, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our search and rescue service as new technologies and capabilities emerge.

By investing in these new capabilities and training the brave men and women who day after day put their lives on the line so that others can live, we are making mariners safer. We are helping all Canadians who live off the sea, who work at sea and who do the selfless and dangerous work they do with more security.

The savings from the consolidation of search and rescue headquarters can be used for education and information campaigns and to multiply the actual capacity on the ground.

The member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, as the parliamentary secretary pointed out, conveniently forgot to mention the fact that the auxiliary Coast Guard has more units in British Columbia than in any other part of the country and that there will be a new inshore rescue vessel right in Vancouver harbour, not be at Kitsilano, but where the most traffic is and where the most need is.

These sorts of enhancements are investments we have made over years, not just this year, which we are committed to keeping and to multiplying in the service of Canadians at sea, and in the service of that absolutely essential task of search and rescue to which all the agencies of this government are absolutely dedicated.

Opposition Motion—Coast Guard Search and Rescue ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP 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 ServicesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

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

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative 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.