Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'Grave misgivings'

The NDP's Atlantic caucus, which I chair, sent a letter
this week (see below) to Fisheries and Oceans Minister
Keith Ashfield re the closure of the Maritime Search and
Rescue Co-ordination Centre in St. John's.

June 20, 2011

The Honourable Keith Ashfield, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
200 Kent St.
Ottawa,ON
K1A OE6

RE: Closure of the Maritime Search and Rescue
Co-ordination Centre in St. John's, NL

Dear Minister,

We, the members of the NDP Atlantic caucus, write to
express our grave misgivings regarding the announcement
of the government's intention to close the Maritime Search
and Rescue Co-ordination Centre in St. John's, NL and move
operations to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax,
NS. We strongly urge you to reconsider your decision.

While New Democrats recognize the need for this government
to introduce checks on its discretionary spending, we believe
that closing the centre in St. John's will result in inferior service
and endanger the lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Inexplicably, the federal government has chosen to ignore
the recommendation of the Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry -
which advocated the expansion and enhansement of
search-and-rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador
- in favour of cost-cutting measures that will amost certainly
impact services negatively.

Despite your government's insistence on categorizing the
Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre as a mere
"call centre", its role is far more significant. The reality is that
on any given day, there are more than 10,000 fishers at sea,
as well as heavy tanker and helicopter traffic, and platforms
associated with offshore oil projects.

Quite simply, the St. John's Centre is able to respond
effectively to emergencies because it is located in the area
it serves. Those who work at the Co-ordination Centre have
an indepth knowledge of the local geography and the particular
nuances of the various dialects and unique terminology used in
Newfoundland and Labrador communities. As such, they are
able to engage successfully with other Newfoundlanders and
Labradorians to ensure the quickest possible response times.

Your government's determination to shutter these local
operations demonstrates a lack of sensitivity and
understanding of the realities facing Newfoundlanders and
Labraorians who labour in the fisheries and offshore industries.

Additionally, the proposed move has been met with widespread
criticism by stakeholders, including the mayor and city council
of St. John's; Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of
Fisheries and Aquaculture, Clyde Jackman; the leadership
of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxillary; and Newfoundlanders
and Labradorians of all stripes, whose concerned calls have
flooded into talk-radio stations across the province.

Moveover, this announcement comes on the heels
of other cuts to programs and services involving Atlantic
Canada, including funding cuts to the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans, and plans to de-staff lighthouses.

New Democrats believe the federal government can
begin demostrating its commitment to Atlantic Canada by
reversing this ill-considered decision. The lives of Canadians
should not be imperiled by arbitrary deficit-reduction
measures, and we are committed to ensure that all Canadians
have direct and timely acccess to the essential services
they require.

We look forward to your prompt response.

The letter was signed by myself (MP, St. John's South-Mount
Pearl), Jack Harris (MP, St. John's East), Megan Leslie
(MP, Halifax), Yvon Godin (MP, Acadie-Bathurst),
Peter Stoffer (MP, Sackville-Eastern Shore),
and Robert Chisholm (MP, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour).

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