Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson speaks to reporters at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa regarding the 2013 Spring Report.— Canadian Press photo
By Murray Brewster
The Canadian Press — Ottawa
Canada’s auditor general says the country’s system of search-and-rescue is in distress and some elements are near the “breaking point.”
Michael Ferguson’s latest report singles out the air force, saying a continuing shortage of pilots and trained crew puts the system in jeopardy.
He also says the country is doesn’t have enough — or the right type — of aircraft to respond to emergencies across the vast open spaces of land and sea.
The Harper government has repeatedly promised to deliver new aircraft to replace the air force’s aging fleet of C-115 Buffalos and older model C-130 Hercules, the workhorses of rescue missions.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has often referred to the procurement as a “top priority.”
But the program, initiated under the Liberals in 2002, is not expected to deliver a new plane until 2017.
“National Defence has not sufficiently replaced and has had difficulty maintaining its SAR aircraft at the necessary level to respond to SAR incidents effectively,” the report said.
Ferguson noted the Hercules do not have sensors and data management found on search aircraft in other countries.
The cost of maintaining the nearly 50-year-old Buffaloes has climbed to $20 million a year, and there’s a shortage of spare parts.
Keeping both aircraft flying until 2017 will require substantial cash for life extensions.
Ferguson says the air force and the coast guard generally meet their response time goals, but the system can be improved.
The air force is able to get a search plane or helicopter airborne on a rescue call about 85 per cent of the time, the report concluded.
But the response time, sometimes the subject of heated public debate, is qualified.
The air force will respond within 30 minutes during business hours Monday to Friday. Outside of that window, the time increases to two hours.
Ferguson says with minor tweaking of the schedule the rate could be improved, something the military has already noted in two previous studies.
The coast guard has demonstrated it can get going within 30 minutes about 96 per cent of the time.
Meanwhile, the information management system used to track search-and-rescue cases is “near the breaking point,” but will not be replaced until 2016.
The auditor says the system is not considered “mission critical” and doesn’t have any continuing information technology support.
Meanwhile, in a separate report, Ferguson took National Defence to task for not having a departmental security plan, something that came to light during the spy scandal involving for navy sub-lieutenant Jeffery Delisle.