Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond yet again to concerns raised by my colleague, the member for Québec about the consolidation of the marine rescue sub-centre currently located in Quebec City.
We have had this discussion before. I find it interesting that this issue continues to be raised, even after we have witnessed the successful transition of the consolidation of the rescue sub-centre in St. John's into the joint rescue coordination centre in Halifax. Search and rescue coordination and response continues to be provided at the same level of service today as it was when the marine rescue sub-centre was in place in St. John's.
Nevertheless, we need to continue to ensure that the facts are reported accurately, to assure Canadians that their safety will continue to be a priority. In particular, I want to refer the member to a statement made by the Canadian Coast Guard on March 28. Let me quote a couple of paragraphs:
Coast Guard recognizes that the government must be absolutely confident that strong French-language services are in place before any changes proceed. Therefore Coast Guard officials will engage with the Official Languages Commissioner to ensure French-language services out of JRCC Halifax meet or exceed current levels.
It went on to say:
Coast Guard will delay consolidation until such time that the Official Languages Commissioner shares the Coast Guard’s level of confidence in the bilingual capacity at the JRCC Halifax.
In fact, if the member has not already, I would encourage her to review the statement in its entirety.
Let me emphasize again that we are fully aware that the provision of bilingual services is critical, particularly when it comes to a safety service such as maritime search and rescue. Recognizing this, the Canadian Coast Guard has taken steps to address this important issue. In fact, we have increased the required level of language proficiency for the maritime search and rescue coordinators at the rescue coordination centres. Language training and maintenance plans have also been developed so that we can ensure that we are meeting our official language obligations in the most effective way.
This change to how we organize search and rescue coordination services would not be made if there was any evidence that it would impact the safety of Canadians, wherever they may reside and whatever their official language of choice. We will of course be receptive to the current review of the Official Languages Commissioner.
As we have stated many times before, this change does not affect the availability of search and rescue resources. Coast guard ships and the Canadian 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. The plain fact is services will always be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in both official languages.
Canada is an international leader in marine safety and the Canadian Coast Guard's search and rescue program is among the best in the world, and will remain so. We will continue to ensure that timely and appropriate maritime search and rescue coordination and response services are available to all mariners.
Let me conclude with the assurance that any changes to the Quebec marine rescue sub-centre will occur only when we have full confidence that the same level of services can be provided and public safety assured. The safety of Canadians remains this government's top priority. The excellent standard of maritime search and rescue that Canadians have come to expect, and indeed depend upon, will continue to be met.