Lives trump savings: group

Dave Bartlett
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Fight continues to save marine rescue sub-centre

FFAW president Earle McCurdy (left), Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour and NDP MP Jack Harris confer after the launch of a new video questioning the reduction of federal funding endangering essential services such as search and rescue. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Oakley Johnston and his brother were hauling lobster traps last June near Placentia Bay when they discovered their boat's motor had stopped working.

The weather was less than ideal, but the outcome of the story was a happy one.

On Friday, Johnston credited the marine rescue sub-centre in St. John's with getting him and his brother back home.

"I would not want to guess what would have happened if not for the quick response from our search and rescue centre," he told a news conference held by the Mayday NL group which is fighting to stop Ottawa from closing the centre.

Johnston said help was on the way in about eight minutes; a helicopter was hovering overhead within an hour and stayed until a coast guard auxiliary ship arrived to help them 30 minutes later.

He doesn't believe the rescue would have been nearly so fast if he had to call Halifax, where the sub-centre's duties will be relocated as early as April 1.

"There's no bloody way in this world would that have happened," he said.

Other speakers included Fish, Food and Allied Workers' president Earle McCurdy.

"I believe saving lives is more important than saving money," he said. "I don't think it's reasonable to expect the tax cuts for banks and oil companies, mining companies (and) multinationals be paid for with the lives of mariners."

Though Ottawa has said safety won't be compromised by the closure, McCurdy doesn't believe it. He said search and rescue services should be beefed up, not diminished.

Lana Payne, president of the province's Federation of Labour sent out condolences to the family of Burton Winters, the 14-year-old from Makkovik who died this week waiting to be rescued.

While no one at the event drew a clear connection to the death and the sub-centre closure, it was said more tragedies will happen if the sub-centre is shut down.

"People will die if this goes forward," said Merv Wiseman, a maritime rescue co-ordinator at the sub-centre, who has been vocal about saving it.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada also released a new web-based video at the news conference to illustrate how "absurd" the sub-centre closure is. The video shows a giant squirrel preventing a rescue professional from helping a mariner in need.

"Like Stephen Harper, that squirrel is just a rat with good PR," said Jeannie Baldwin, regional vice-president for the Atlantic region of PSAC. The video can be viewed at


Organizations: Public Service Alliance of Canada, Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Ottawa, Placentia Bay, St. John's Makkovik Atlantic

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