Budget cuts deep at sea

Andrew Robinson
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Closure of marine rescue centre criticized

The federal Conservative government’s decision to close the St. John’s Marine Rescue Sub-Centre is drawing plenty of heat from both opposition MPs and the provincial government.

The federal government’s plan to axe the St. John’s Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre is attracting plenty of criticism provincially, with most questioning whether the move creates cost-efficiencies at the expense of public safety.

The site provides search and rescue co-ordination, aids communication efforts and contributes local knowledge to support the work of higher-up centres. But under the federal government’s plan, that work will be shifted to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centres in Halifax, and Trenton, Ont.

Various media reports stated the St. John’s centre employs 12 people.

Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman said he was surprised by the budget cut and intends to move the item to the top of his agenda for scheduled discussions with the federal government. He said he was already pencilled in for a meeting today with federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield.

“I have a number of items to discuss with Minister Ashfield, and this will certainly move to the forefront,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s a life safety issue. When you’re looking at the fiscal decisions you’re making, surely there’s other places where you can take people out, rather than removing people (where) such a decision could impact the safety of people.”

Jackman hopes an argument can be made to have the decision reversed.

Total cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in Newfoundland and Labrador in Monday’s federal budget accounted for $56 million.

News of the site’s impending closure may be particularly troubling to those dependent on the fishery. Since 1999, there have been 42 deaths at sea off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Jackman said with increased tanker traffic and more helicopters travelling to oil rigs, he would think now is a more opportune time to make investments in search and rescue services rather than cuts.

The matter of search and rescue response times has become an important topic in the province since the tragic events of March 12, 2009, when a Sikorsky S-92 flown by Cougar Helicopters plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean, claiming the lives of 17 of the 18 passengers on board.

“We’ve been working with the industry and the federal government — DFO — to implement some measures to improve safety, and to hear this decision, it really is surprising to me,” Jackman said.

That inspired a serious dialogue about offshore safety and response times.

The Wells Inquiry was established, overseen by retired judge Robert Wells. It eventually called for the creation of a stand-alone safety agency for the province’s oil industry.

St. John’s West New Democrat MP Jack Harris compelled the parliamentary defence committee to study search and rescue response times. Harris was among the first politicians to vocalize his disappointment over closure of the sub-centre.

“I think it’s a shameful decision,”  Harris said Wednesday.

“I have a number of items to discuss with Minister Ashfield, and this will certainly move to the forefront." Clyde Jackman

“The minister continuously refered to the marine rescue co-ordinating centre as a call centre, downplaying the significance and importance of its role,” he said.

The defence committee Harris sits on visited the sub-centre last winter on the southside of St. John’s, where its members heard first-hand about its important role in search and rescue operations, particularly with regards to local knowledge, he said.

“I’ve spent the last two years trying to improve search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada by bringing response times down and getting them to international standards, which we’re lagging way behind in. And here we have a government that’s not only (avoiding) doing that, but also cutting back on services.”

Harry Blackmore, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association, is among those parties who have worked with staff from the rescue sub-centre. He said with every report and study coming out over the last few years pointing to the need for more resources in search and rescue, it’s deplorable to shutdown the sub-centre in St. John’s.

He was among those who attended a symposium on search and rescue last week in St. John’s that was attended by officials from rescue centres in St. John’s and Halifax. Blackmore said there was nothing in the air pointing to what the public would learn this week.

Volunteer search and rescue organizations deal directly with the sub-centre in St. John’s whenever they become involved in rescue activities in salt water.

“We know everyone over there, and we know how it works. When you call they understand what we’re doing. We understand what they’re doing and their expertise we need to have. Now to have to call Halifax on this — it’s foolishness.”

Speaking at events in St. John’s on Tuesday, federal cabinet minister Peter Penashue said cuts to DFO were necessary to allow the federal government to prioritize investment in health and education. He did not make specific mention of the sub-centre in St. John’s.

In a news release Wednesday, Penashue said the safety and security of the province remains a top priority and that cuts to the sub-centre in St. John’s will not affect that.

“The existing search and rescue resources including helicopters, vessels, and officers will remain in Newfoundland where they are currently based to ensure rapid response.”

According to the Canadian Coast Guard website, the St. John’s sub-centre responds to an average of 5,000 calls each year for 2,900 people. Of those, it said 28 per cent are classified as distress incidents — the highest rate in Canada.


Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Joint Rescue Co, Wells Inquiry Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association Canadian Coast Guard

Geographic location: Halifax, Newfoundland and Labrador, Trenton Atlantic Ocean Canada Canada.arobinson

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Recent comments

  • Barbara
    June 11, 2011 - 08:08

    Minister Jackman was surprised to hear that the Federal Gov. would make a decision that would impact the safety of people. Yet him and his Cabinet counterparts, to a man/woman, made a very similar decision to compromise the health and safety of the people of Long Island when they announced, not only the cancelling of the 1/2 km causeway to Long Island but the removal of that community's dedicated ferry that has been in place for 28 years. I have spent the last six years entreating the Provincial government not to remove OUR access to our 5 minute response time to ambulance, yet government says it's ok for it to turn our access to emergency aid from 5 minutes to 2-4 hours. How can our provincial government expect any better treatment from Ottawa when, in doing what they did to Long Island, they are endorsing this path that Ottawa has taken? It is time for all levels of government to start working with and for the people, not against them. Set an example Minister Jackman and Premier Dunderdale. Treat your own people's health and safety as a priority then you may be taken seriously when you take our request that our case that our much needed marine rescue center must remain in St. John's.

  • McLovin
    June 10, 2011 - 07:49

    To BILL and SCOT-FREE - Let's see how many government offices are closed and cutbacks happen in Quebec.........using your logic we should see plenty!

  • julie
    June 09, 2011 - 16:50

    @scott free __> wait ... So now I'm supposed to vote for the party that might get a majority regardless of my beliefs so that when they govern they'll be nice to us? Do you not see how stupid that sounds? Why bother to vote then? If that makes me naive in your eyes fine ... but bullying isn't tolerated in school, so why are you just accepting it from the government? Finally ... we could have 7/7 conversatives in the province and this still could have happened ... you can't actually say it has anything to do with the election results, its all a guessing and assumption game.

  • julie
    June 09, 2011 - 16:48

    @scott free __> wait ... So now I'm supposed to vote for the party that might get a majority regardless of my beliefs so that when they govern they'll be nice to us? Do you not see how stupid that sounds? Why bother to vote then? If that makes me naive in your eyes fine ... but bullying isn't tolerated in school, so why are you just accepting it from the government? Finally ... we could have 7/7 conversatives in the province and this still could have happened ... you can't actually say it has anything to do with the election results, its all a guessing and assumption game.

  • Graham
    June 09, 2011 - 16:32

    Great jopb by Danny Williams to cause this great rift between Ottawa and our great Province. Just like the typical school yard bully he creates a bad situation and then walks away from it to let someone else deal with it. Thanks for nothing GOOSE EGG DANNY.

  • Scott Free
    June 09, 2011 - 12:08

    David sir, you are dead on; we as a province will feel the negative effects of the Danny Damage Era for generations to come.

  • Scott Free
    June 09, 2011 - 08:43

    note to Politically Incorrect...you sir, are so naive its appalling; and, so wrong; Tory, I'm not...you have me confused with koolaid slurping bobbleheads. I'm simply stating the same argument that poster Bill is saying; no reward for NL in its treatment of Harper, and, visa-versa. Governments rewards its cronies; whatever the stripe; it has nothing whatsover to do with democracy; have a shot of reality and wake up.

    • Politicall Incorrect
      June 09, 2011 - 09:22

      So as you confessed, you are not a Tory, would you be okay if your application to the federal civil service was denied or if a contract that you tendered to do work for the DFO was rejected in favour of a firm that made a donation to the Conservative coffers? I'm sorry that you feel that expecting governments to work on behalf of its citizens is naive and wrong, but knuckling under to bullies only serves to prolong the injustice.

    • David
      June 09, 2011 - 10:50

      Scott Free: no sense trying to wake this guy up from his denial nap....ABC evetually has led to Nfld being ostracized...it amazes me how how a place so (laughably) intense about politics as Newfoundland can still be so ignorant of how it works. You gotta hand it to Quebec for at least being savvy. We, on the other hand, are a clueless, self-victimized joke.

    • David
      June 09, 2011 - 11:10

      Becasue they want to screw up mail delivery but keep gettnig most of the aggregate wage total for the membership...the same wages they are currently unhappy with, and LESS than they've been offered!? It's called greedy, manipulative hypocrisy. Strikes were first initiated as an expression of deeply-held principles...but what happens when you don't have principles, just greed? Voila.

    • Mel Blake
      June 09, 2011 - 11:40

      Everyone knows that if you don't vote for the ruling government then there's a price to pay. In a majority situation its even more so with an elected dictatorship which can do whatever it wants. The Alberta/Ontario crowd does not need maritime rescue and so it will be cut like everything else they don't value. Running a rescue operation off the northeast coast of Newfoundland from Trenton, Ontario where there isn't even salt water is crazy, but if you don vote for the Conservatives ....

  • Harvey
    June 09, 2011 - 08:25

    Do I have to believe that we have a Prime Minister who, because NLers did not vote for him, can be so vindictive, so callous, so contemptible that he would knowingly take such action to further endanger the lives of so many people who gain a livelihood working in such a hazardous environment? If so, where is democracy in Canada?

  • bill
    June 09, 2011 - 08:15

    And did we expect the Feds to reward us for the way we treated them? NL has to learn to help themselves...we can't keep slapping people in the face and expect to get rewarded for it!! I somehow thought we were a little smarter than that!! Come on people this is the way politics has been for hundreds of years!! Is it always right...probably not!! But our province with 7 meazly seats are not going to change it. We have to learn to help ourselves!! Maybe having Fabian/Loyola/Trevor onside wouldn't have been a bad thing now. PS...the resources are still going to be in the province, its the service call procedure that is moving. I am hoping the decision will be reversed but i am not holding my breathe!!

    • McLovin
      June 10, 2011 - 06:52

      Actually Bill, Steve Harper slapped us in the face about 2 BILLION times. I think we owe him a few more yet! Wouldnt it make more sense to move the Halifax office to St. John's?

  • Dorothy Jenkins
    June 09, 2011 - 07:36

    To close this Centre is absolutely disgraceful..Lives are at great risk and the Govt. should reverse this decision. Newfoundland and Labrador appears to mean nothing to Harper and it is time for all of us to speak up and let the people of Canada come on Board with us. Life is too precious for this too happen. We know the consequences.

  • Scott Free
    June 09, 2011 - 07:34

    er hello! why would anyone in NL be shocked at this? its only the beginning of Harper's payback to NL for its second round of non-support. Back to back shutouts in Fed elections, with the exception of PP in Lab; do we really think that Harper won't hold a grudge? Why would he be kind to NL when we've turned our back on him? C'mon people, don't you understand politics? its all about scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Watch for the fallout of the next round of Federal cutbacks and how it will impact negatively on NL.

    • Politically Incorrect
      June 09, 2011 - 08:18

      "Why would he be kind to NL when we've turned our back on him?" BECAUSE in a democracy the government is supposed to work for the welfare of the entire country, not just those that support the Ruling Party. It would seem, Scott, that you're more okay with bully tactics and corruption than democracy. Aaah, a true Tory.