In Defence of the MRSC-3

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Merv Wiseman takes the kid gloves off

July 6, 2011 - Peter Penashue has been caught in a lie.

And this is no minor political fib. Penashue was talking about a matter of life and death, when he did the deed.

Penashue was on VOCM Open Line last Thursday, defending his government’s decision to close the Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) in St. John’s, and consolidate operations in Halifax.

“There was an incident last week near Makkovik, I think a place called Cape Harrison,” Penashue said. “The people there were caught off, on the sea, and ended up on some kind of an island of some sort, and anyway they called for help. The gentleman called his wife, and his wife turned around and called the police, and the police called Halifax. Never bothered (to call) St John’s. And there was a helicopter to that site in very short order.”

However, Merv Wiseman begs to differ.

“That is not true,” said Wiseman, who is a rescue coordinator at the MRSC and shop steward for the workers there. “That is a bare-faced, downright lie. And he knows the difference. Because that lady called me. I was the rescue coordinator. I was the search master on that case. I was the one who launched the surface resources on that. I worked with the RCMP on that. I coordinated the whole thing from top to bottom. And I was the one who, in fact, called the air controller in Halifax and requested a helicopter, the Cormorant out of Gander, and a fixed wing.”

Wiseman acknowledged that Penashue may not have lied intentionally; that he may be receiving bad information from officials who want to manipulate the situation and distort facts. “But why all the deception? Why is it so important to close this centre when all the facts are weighing against it?”

It is also deceitful to imply that aircraft can only be mobilized and controlled out of Halifax, Wiseman added. “We routinely request aircraft, and they don’t question that (in Halifax),” he said. “They control the decision of whether or not to fly, due to weather conditions, for example, or if the pilots are fatigued, but once the aircraft is off the ground, they don’t control it. The first thing they want from us, and the first thing we give them, is a search plan for the aircraft. We tell it to run an expanding square or parallel track or whatever. They follow our plan. And if we want to change it halfway through, due to new information, they go by that. We control it.”

Wiseman’s point is that this local command and control authority and infrastructure will now be lost. Wiseman said the comments by Paul Clay, in my June 30 blog entry, were “100 percent accurate,” so I won’t repeat them here.

“Local knowledge is important, but it barely scratches the surface of what we are losing,” Wiseman said. “Seventy percent of the incidents we respond to relate to the fishing industry, which is known universally as the most dangerous occupation in the world.”

Wiseman says the federal claim, that closing the MRSC will save money, is nonsense. He says the MRSC is an integrated centre, one that includes work stations for GPS, ice observation, notices to shipping, and more. Wiseman said that none of these other services are going, so the MRSC facility will remain open and cost savings will relate only to salaries.

“However, they are not saving anything at all,” Wiseman said. “Under workforce adjustment, all 12 salaries are protected, which means no salaries go. No one is going to Halifax, so we lose that great wealth, more than 100 years of combined experience in SAR coordinators… So we have to create six new full-time position in Halifax, and what will come out soon is the fact that they are finding logistically, the implementation of this may very well be an obstacle they can’t overcome. Because when they move the next rescue coordinator in (to Halifax) they’ve reached the standard where they need to have what is called a ‘stand back supervisor’ on the watch, which means there will have to be six new supervisory positions created, in addition to the six new coordinator positions. There is no saving at all… This is not a cost saving measure. It is just not adding up.”

There is irony in Wiseman’s situation, because he ran for Harper’s Conservatives in the 2006 federal election. Wiseman has acknowledged the awkwardness of his situation, but has been circumspect about it – up to now, that is. In our interview, Wiseman made clear that it’s no more, mr. nice guy.

“You talk about getting ostracized,” he said. “During the last two years, I was ready to run again, and they came to me and said, ‘Listen, Loyola Sullivan wants to run, he’s the man, he’s going to pull it off.’ And they wanted me to stand down. But I wasn’t prepared to stand down. So I had everyone calling me, from the riding level right up to the Prime Minister’s Office, whose Chief of Staff called me. And I did stand down, not because I believed Sullivan could win, but I said, ‘Look, okay, I’ll take one for the team and we’ll do it.’”

However, since the MRSC issue broke, and Wiseman became its voice of dissent, he has become persona non grata within the party.

“I’ve been blackballed from the bottom to the top. I stood up during the ABC campaign, when all these people were scurrying and running and hiding under the rocks. All those people who were around me then, every single one of them, won’t answer an email or telephone call from me now, everyone from the very bottom of the electoral district to the very top, in the PMO, senators, you name it, because I’m out there fighting this issue and supposedly making this government look bad. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s the way it’s going to be. That’s a little bit distressing but, at the same time, there’s probably some gratification in that too, because I’ve now finally separated what’s important in life from what’s not important. And maybe I couldn’t see that before.”

Wiseman said he assumes he has the same access to senators from this province as he’s had in the past, and intends to use it.

“I am going to Ottawa and I’m going to walk into their offices and look them in the eye,” he said. “I want to understand where they are coming from. Are they being a bit cautious? Do they really mean to shut me out? What’s going on?”

Wiseman was equally forthright when I asked about how the provincial government is handling the MRSC issue.

“I agree 100 percent with what Paul Clay said (that government has been too quiet on the matter). I’ve been a little bit delicate on this up to now, but now I understand I have pissed them off because I suggested publicly that we have an inquiry. Jackman said why should we study something we already know the answer to? Well, that’s a simplistic way to look at a very complex issue,” Wiseman said, adding that the province has launched safety-related inquiries in the past, into the loss of the “Ocean Ranger”, the crash of Cougar 491, and other incidents.

I suggested that perhaps the province is treading lightly because they want to stay friendly with the prime minister, as evidenced by the eager participation of Premier Dunderdale at a Harper political rally in St. John’s.

“Absolutely,” he said. “You nailed it. I was a ‘conservative’ and I was advocating, rightly or wrongly, that we have more of a connection, more of a rapport, and better relations with Ottawa... but when she did that (get up on the stage), I said ‘Holy shit man, what a stupid thing to do.’ It was over the top. She didn’t have to do that. She could have given Harper everything he needed by being a little bit back, a little bit reserved, holding the cards a little closer. It tells me that the kind of gut instincts Williams had, she doesn’t have... It was a stupid political move, I think.”

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  • Jerome
    July 13, 2011 - 09:20

    I don't know if any else has noticed, but in the numerous interviews with Merv Wiseman since this issue has arisen, it appears he goes out of his way not to criticize the Harper Government.

  • polly pocket
    July 08, 2011 - 08:29

    wow so this whole thing sounds more and more like a way of undermining merv wiseman than anything else.