It was a tearful scene in the lobby of Confederation Building Wednesday evening, as Labrador MHA Randy Edmunds embraced Tama Stephanie Fost.
Fost is a family member of 14-year-old Burton Winters who froze to death on the sea ice near Makkovik after running into trouble on his snowmobile.
Fost wiped tears from her eyes as she thanked Edmunds for a private member’s motion, unanimously passed in the House Wednesday, which calls on both the provincial and federal government to examine their search and rescue protocols.
Burton’s body was found more than 19 kilometres from his snowmobile three days after he was reported missing.
“In the Burton Winters case, something went wrong, and if this is protocol and this is normal then it needs to be fixed,” Edmunds said.
“Rather than cutting back on services in search and rescue in the province, I think the province and the federal government should be increasing them,” Edmunds said.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her caucus supported the motion. She said she’s particularly interested in pressing the federal government to reverse its decision to close the marine rescue sub-centre in St. John’s.
Dunderdale said she’s satisfied the provincial portion of the search and rescue system is adequate.
“We reviewed our protocols,” she said. “We looked at what we are able to provide given that we’re a half million people in a vast geographic area. What is sensible and prudent and what we can afford.”
Following debate in the House, Dunderdale also came out into the lobby to offer her condolences to Fost.
Friday afternoon the government announced it will spend $510,000 on thermal imaging cameras for search and rescue teams.
A group of people accompanied Fost, all pushing for more search and rescue assets in Labrador. Artist Terry Rielly, speaking for the group, said if the timing of the announcement was strategic, he’s fine with that.
“It’s good timing on their part, and why not?” he said. “If it was a political opportunity for them? Yay to them. Grab the opportunity and let’s do the right thing.”
In the House, Liberal and NDP members used the private member’s debate to talk about the need for expanded cellphone coverage as another potentially critical lifesaving tool.
NDP MHA Christopher Mitchelmore said the provincial government could really put a concerted push to bring cell coverage to under-served areas.
“Why aren’t we looking at partnering with the telecommunications companies and investing similar to the rural broadband initiative?” Mitchelmore asked. “This is where we need to sit down and have a real telecommunications strategy and this can tie into search and rescue as well, because it’s all part of the process.”