MacKay meets with provincial counterpart; leaders lament lack of action

James McLeod
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National Defence Minister Peter MacKay was in St. John’s Monday to meet with Kevin O’Brien, provincial minister responsible for emergency services, and to make a funding announcement. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Defence Minister Peter MacKay was in St. John’s Monday morning to talk about search and rescue issues, and he delivered a clear message: the province needs to step up.

In recent weeks, MacKay has been defending against controversy from a federal auditor general’s report which details major problems with the national search and rescue system. MacKay met with  Kevin O’Brien, minister responsible for emergency services, Monday to say that the federal government wants help from the provinces to shore up the system.

“What we addressed was the need for partnerships, and I asked the provincial minister to work with us collaboratively on a whole range of issues that pertain to joint responsibility, shared responsibility in areas of search and rescue,” MacKay told reporters. “There’s a commitment there to continue to work together to continue to address some of these concerns.”

After Auditor General Michael Ferguson delivered his report last week, Premier Kathy Dunderdale demanded immediate, concrete plans to address each of the report’s recommendations, along with specific timelines for getting things done.

On that point, MacKay said he’s already announced changes to the system that address some of Ferguson’s concerns. Last week, MacKay announced millions of dollars for new satellites to help search and rescue workers, along with moves that will improve response times during peak hours.

MacKay also announced a quadrennial review of SAR services which will figure out what changes need to be made.

But as of today, O’Brien said he’s not satisfied.

“You’re never satisfied until you see action, and I’ll only be satisfied when I see action, and the timelines surrounding that action plan,” he said. “Time will tell.”

Seemingly in the spirit of partnership, MacKay came bearing gifts. He had about $1 million in federal money for the province’s ground search and rescue system, despite the fact that ground services are solely a provincial responsibility.

O’Brien said the money was nice, but he doesn’t want the federal government to use it to try to deflect from its responsibilities to improve air and marine search and rescue services.

“I’ll take money wherever it comes from,” O’Brien said.

While MacKay was in town, he also opened the door to one of the opposition Liberals’ longtime demands — a public inquiry into search and rescue.

For more than a year, the Liberals have been calling for an inquiry, but Dunderdale has said one of the reasons it can’t be done is because the province can’t compel Ottawa to participate.

When MacKay was asked about the issue, he didn’t give a firm yes or no answer, but he seemed to indicate that if the province calls an inquiry, the federal government would co-operate.

“We are prepared to work with our partners,” MacKay said. “That’s what I signalled very clearly to minister O’Brien today, and we are going to continue to work with all of the other stakeholders.”

That was all Liberal Leader Dwight Ball needed to hear. On Monday afternoon, he renewed his call for an inquiry.

“We need to know there’s a co-ordinated approach to search and rescue for all activities,” Ball said. “We’re not there yet, and this is the reason why we need the review. We need a public inquiry to identify where all the gaps are.”

But O’Brien made it clear that the province won’t do that any time soon. He said the province has already got a pretty good idea where the holes are in the search and rescue system — the federal portion, at least — and now Ottawa needs to fix it. “The bottom line of it is that we need action now,” O’Brien said. “We have a great report from the auditor general that outlines deficiencies within the SAR system in Canada, and it’s clearly a federal responsibility.”

On that line of thinking, anyway, the province and Ottawa seem to be on the same page.

“This is not a time for recriminations and finger pointing,” MacKay said.

Twitter: TelegramJames


Organizations: Liberals

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Peter without principal
    May 07, 2013 - 13:47

    what a politician says is not what he/she means to say, what you heard them say is not what they actually said, what they said is not what they actually meant. what you think they said was taken outta context, what they didn't say is what they mean to say,

    • Jack
      May 08, 2013 - 07:50

      You don't say !!!

  • George C. Hill
    May 07, 2013 - 12:17

    The Federal government needs to implement a National SAR policy: The Federal Government is responsible for ALL Search & Rescue Nationwide... Or it should be ! It is irresponsible for the Federal Government Not to have a National SAR program. We all pay Federal Taxes... Then we should have a National SAR program that is equal in all Provinces in Coverage, Equipment, Budget and Personnel. The way it is now is that the richer Provinces get better SAR Services ? IF SO - Not right. Put the Canadian Coast Guard into the picture just like in the USA. Fund it and it will happen ! The Canadian Forces do a great job with what little they have, but that is insufficient to the need. Place the Canadian Coast Guard in charge of SAR and the military can assist when available. Every Canadian deserves the same quality of service. This shouldn't be a hit or miss event depending on which province one lives. SAR should be a priority of the highest order no matter whom you are or where you live. The Federal Government , Not the Provincial Government, should bear the full responsibility for a National SAR Program. Provincial participation should be supplemental. CANADA should have the best SAR Program in the world. It has the funds... It has the people... It has the need... Now we require the Politicians with the Will.

    • Aunt Lizzie
      May 07, 2013 - 15:08

      George, your reasoning may be sound, but it is not constitutional. Perhaps while you are opening the constitution to make all SAR a federal responsibility, you can do the same for health care (it should be the same for all Canadians), education (same principle applies), the court system (again, there is no reason for it to differ from one province to the next), sales tax (why should Albertans pay no sales tax while the rest of us pay through the nose?), etc, etc. Following your logic, we could just do away with provinces altogether and have one national government taxing us all equally and providing equal services across Canada. Not a bad idea, perhaps. But that darned constitution is in the way.

  • Don
    May 07, 2013 - 08:34

    Beware of Greeks baring gifts. I would not trust MacKay as far as I could throw the Confederation Bldg.

  • Peter Principle
    May 07, 2013 - 07:22

    I wish they would Peter out; McKay, Peneshue, et all.