Change is better than a rest

Michael Johansen
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"The answer is no." Ottawa has spoken. There will be no Burton Winters Search and Rescue Centre in Labrador.

The Department of National Defence will, from now on, allow its SAR techs to find out if a previously ignored cry for help is still in effect, but no new search and rescue equipment or personnel will be stationed at 5 Wing Goose Bay.

The two training helicopters already parked at the airbase are perfectly adequate for handling any missions required of them, MP Peter Penashue recently told a modest gathering of about 50 invitees and others.

"The helicopters are there to provide the service when they're called upon. They've all been assigned to the appropriate places for the best service."

The system as conceived and implemented by the federal government, Penashue explained, has Labrador as part of the Atlantic region, efficiently sharing search-and-rescue resources with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia - a system that allows the closing of the apparently superfluous Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's.

All five helicopters available and semi-available for search and rescue duties in Newfoundland and Labrador will henceforth be commanded from Greenwood, N.S. - "until we change the system," as Penashue said.

In the first weeks following the death of a 14-year-old boy lost near Makkovik, the MP from Labrador tried to keep the tragedy from becoming political by focusing on the emotional impact such accidents have on families, and by avoiding discussion about government policy.

He's clearly given up on that strategy now, since he's blaming Goose Bay's two broken-down helicopters on what the Liberals did or did not do almost 10 years ago.

However, politics is not his only problem.

The MP from Labrador is now fighting to stop the issue from becoming personal, as well. When he let slip the notion of changing Ottawa's whole search and rescue system, his audience was not slow to respond.

"So, how do we change the system?" one person demanded.

"Get rid of Harper!" another answered.

"Hear, hear! Hear, hear!" several others chimed in.

More comments followed, including a challenge that Penashue risk his cabinet job in order to be a better MP.

"It's not about how many times you call the ambulance if you fall down and have a heart attack. It's about having the damned ambulance."

"Burton Winters didn't give up and we're not going to give up, either."

"We know you can push, so push for this."

"This has to be addressed in a better way than you are presenting to us today - not what Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper told you to say, but what we want here. If that means Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper tell you to get out of their office, then so be it."

Under pressure

Penashue, emulating his colleague Ryan Cleary, revealed a bit of the pressure he's feeling as a member of Parliament.

"I'll tell you something: you think my job is just focusing exclusively on search and rescue in Labrador. My job is to protect the people of Labrador, to protect their jobs, protect the jobs at 5 Wing Goose Bay, to make sure the fishery works on the south coast and to continue to lobby for an airstrip on the north coast for Nain. There are many, many things that I work on, work for, for Labrador. So, don't focus the job for the MP just on this particular component."

"Right at the moment, this is the main issue," came the public response. "This is what we want fixed right now."

One could admire the MP for his courage in facing what he must have known would be an unfavourable crowd, but since he issued the invitations one might also wonder why he didn't insure he had some supporters on hand to back him up.

What's happening is that the MP for Labrador is tasting the sour side of winning office with Canada's antiquated electoral system.

Almost two-thirds of his constituents actually voted against him and, as has been demonstrated publicly several times, they're not likely to change their minds and begin supporting Conservative policies.

At least they're never going to agree with Conservative search-and-rescue policy - not unless the Conservatives change first.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Department of National Defence, Marine Rescue Sub-Centre, Conservatives

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Goose Bay, Ottawa Atlantic Nova Scotia St. John's Greenwood Makkovik Canada

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Recent comments

  • JohnnySeven
    March 18, 2012 - 10:00

    The DND damage-control trolls such as Lane and his/her ilk are still on here trying to deflect blame from MacKay's department by implicating the provincial government, claiming this was a ground-based SAR theatre hence provincial responsibility. Nothing is further from the truth. Burton Winters was not lost on land, he was lost on the drifting pack ice of the Labrador Sea. Drifting pack ice is amongst the most treacherous of marine environments, Mr. Perry Dyson can attest to that (see link ). Open sea water can appear anywhere at anytime under the influence of winds, waves, currents, and tides. DND is the agency properly equipped to conduct SAR in such a hazardous marine environment, not the provincial government. Indeed, that DND did not respond when the call for help went out actually put land-based SAR responders unequipped for such a hazardous marine environmental at increased risk, as the incident involving Mr. Dyson clearly indicates. The partisan trolls can try to twist and turn this tragic incident to deflect and divert blame from MacKay's department, and how low is that? Despite the vile attempts at spin and damage control by these partisan trolls, the facts surrounding the Burton Winters incident speak for themselves. And NLers will never forget that, no matter what.

    • Lane
      March 18, 2012 - 18:05

      Johnnny, if you're suggesting that I have any link to DND, you are wrong. And if you are suggesting that this was a marine search, you are wrong again. The search for Burton Winters was carried out as a land search. The province assumed jurisdiction and was in charge the whole time. Search parties looked for Winters on foot, and the province dispatched its own contracted SAR helicopters. Only when those searches failed was DND contacted to render assistance. If it had been a marine rescue, DND would have had jurisdiction from the outset. This was simply not the case. Also, Winters was not found on drifting pack ice - he was found on an ice shelf attached to land.

  • Lane
    March 17, 2012 - 22:49

    Another BS-laden partisan diatribe from Johansen. The province, not the federal government, has primary responsibility for ground search and rescue. And the rescue coordination centre in St. John's has nothing to do with helicopters. SAR aircraft for all of Atlantic Canada have always been coordinated from Halifax. St. John's only coorddinates boats, not aircraft. Finally, I fail to see how the Conservative SAR policy is any different from the Liberal SAR policy. Goose Bay, and Labrador as a whole, has the same number of SAR helicopters, personnel and other assets as when the Liberals were in power.

  • Cyril Rogers
    March 17, 2012 - 08:53

    Mr. Penashue is but the latest in a long line of MP's whose loyalties to their party supercede their responsibilities to their province, once installed as the Cabinet representative for the province. That too is an antiquated and divisive process. Any person who has integrity and is guided by principles of fair play must, of necessity, put them aside once they step in that cauldron that makes up the federal cabinet. Frankly, it is dominated by Ontario and Quebec or, in this case, heavily influenced by the West. Never has there been a time when the interests of this province have been fairly represented, although we have had a few strong Ministers in the past. Lately though, we just seem to get party lackeys who look out for their own preservation. I can't blame them totally for that, as self-preservation is a product of a dysfunctional system, exploited to the maximum by the dictator-prone Harperites.