Thursday, June 7, 2012

It is our place to stand up for Canadians — on land and on water


I gave the following 10-minute speech on Wednesday, June 6th, in the House of Commons. 

Mr. Speaker,

The motion before this honourable House today, that government must recognize that saving lives is the top priority for Canadian Coast Guard Search and Rescue Services, is much like the motion that was debated in this House just weeks ago. 

That motion called for Canada to adopt an international search-and-rescue readiness standard of 30 minutes — at all time, around-the-clock — for the military’s Cormorant helicopters.

Mr. Speaker, the response time for the Cormorant helicopters varies depending on the time of day.

Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. — Monday to Friday — the wheels-up response time for a Cormorant helicopter is 30 minutes.

After 4 pm, and on weekends, and during holidays, the wheels-up response time is up to two hours.

Needless to say, Mr. Speaker, that response time has cost mariners their lives. 

You would never see a fire department operate that way — people would revolt, because it would make no sense. 

Because people would most surely die.

People have died on the water, Mr. Speaker, because of the search and rescue response time policy. 

In fact, according to the CBC’s the Fifth Estate, there have been nine cases in the last eight years alone — nine cases in eight years — where people died waiting for search and rescue that didn’t come quick enough.

The Conservatives have said they will vote against the motion that called for Canada to adopt the 30-minute, around-the clock response time. 

Again, both that motion — and the motion before this House today — are about saving lives. 

About saving the lives of mariners. 

About how saving lives should be a top priority. 

That’s the common theme — saving the lives of mariners. 

Why did the Conservatives say they were prepared to vote against the motion at the end of April, if lives would have been saved because of it?

I’ll tell you why, Mr. Speaker; I have the quotes right here. 

This is a quote from the Parliamentary Secretary for National Defence::

“We also do not think it is the place of the House, this member, or other members to determine what the actual response times of the Canadian Forces, or any other body, ought to be on these matters.”

I couldn’t believe that quote when I heard it, Mr. Speaker. 

It is not the place of this House to debate a search-and-rescue policy of the Canadian Forces that impacts the lives of Canadian mariners?

It is not the place of this House to debate an inadequate search-and-rescue response policy that has been directly linked to the death of Canadian mariners?

It is not the place of this House to debate a search-and-rescue response policy that the Conservative government is reluctant to change because of the associated cost?

How much is a life worth, Mr. Speaker?

I say it is our place, Mr. Speaker. 

It is our place to stand up for Canadians who cannot stand up for themselves, to stand up for any injustice, on land or on water. 

It is our place to stand up when a policy falls short of protecting the Canadians it was instituted to protect. 

It is our place. 

It is our place. 

•••

So here we are today debating another motion that the government must recognize that saving is the top priority for Canadian Coast Guard search-and-rescue services. 

I can’t believe we’re actually debating that, Mr. Speaker. 

How the Conservatives can stand up and argue this is beyond me?

The next part of the motion before us today reads:

“That local service and knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate in the language of the communities served, are essential to delivering effective and timely life-saving operations.”

Closing the Maritime Rescue Sub-centre in my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl — more specifically, on the south side of St. John’s harbour — was the wrong move. 

It was the wrong move because those distress calls will now be directed to Halifax and Trenton, Ont. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Mr. Speakers, but Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have unique accents.

Me, I’m not so lucky to have a full-blown Newfoundland accent, although we all sound different on the wharf. 

But many fishermen, many mariners, aren’t so easy to understand unless you’re from the place. 

If your ship is going down you can have seconds, barely seconds, to send of a mayday. 

I can tell you this — a mainlander would have a hard time understanding a person from outport Newfoundland and Labrador, who’s also probably overexcited facing a life-and-death situation. 

I can tell you this, too, Mr. Speaker, a mainlander would have a hard time pinpointing the various places around Newfoundland and Labrador on a map. 

There are countless Seal Coves and Belle Islands. 

So local service and knowledge — and the ability to communicate in the language of the communities services — is essential.  

It’s more than essential — it’s critical. 

It’s more than critical, Mr. Speaker, it’s a matter of life and death. 

It was bad enough the Conservatives closed the Maritime Rescue Sub-centre in my riding — directing distress calls to Halifax and Trenton, Ont.

How did the Conservative next fail our mariners?

I’ll give you an example, an unbelievable example. 

Medical calls for help from ships off Newfoundland and Labrador — and only off Newfoundland and Labrador — were being routed 5,000 miles away to Italy. 

That’s right Mr. Speaker, the calls were being directed to a Rome-based non-profit organization that’s been described as the “soup kitchen of telehelp.”

It was bad enough the Conservatives closed the Maritime Rescue Sub-centre in my riding — directing distress calls to Halifax and Trenton, Ont.

Mainlanders have a hard enough time understanding my people. 

Let along Italians. 

Our search-and-rescue response times are among the worst in the world, our mariners have died waiting for help that didn’t come. 

So did 14-year-old Burton Winters of Makkovik, Labrador. 

The Conservative government has written off our fishery, and now our mariners. 

The resentment towards this Conservative government is growing, Mr. Speaker.

And will continue to grow unless this Conservative government changes tack and drops its defeatist attitude toward the East Coast.  

The last part of today’s motion, Mr. Speaker, calls on the Conservative government to reverse the decision to close the Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centres in St. John’s and Quebec City, as well as the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. 

Mr. Speaker, I have had conversations with former employees of the Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre in St. John’s. 

I have heard those former employees say that lives will be lost because of this Conservative government decision. 

These former employees know what they’re talking about, they worked on the front-line for decades at the rescue sub-centre. 

These front-line employees know the coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador like the back of their hands. 

These front-line employees know the dialects of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Keep in mind, Mr. Speaker, that accents can be different from one cove to the next. 

These front-line employees were familiar with the hundreds of communities that dot our coastline. 

They knew many of the men and women who plied the waters. 

They knew — not just the mariners — but the friends and relatives of the mariners. 

That local knowledge, that on-the-ground knowledge, is critical in a search-and-rescue situation. 

Where seconds are hours, where hours are days, and where days are … well, if it’s days you’re probably dead. 

Mr. Speaker, I implore this government, I implore this House, to vote for this motion. 

To vote for saving lives. 

To vote for making the saving of lives the top priority, above saving money, above petty politics. 

I implore this government to reverse its decision and to the right thing. 

Show the mariners of Newfoundland and Labrador, the mariners of Atlantic Canada and all of Canada, that this government knows its priorities. 

So that, in the words of our late leader Jack Layton, no one is left behind.

No one is left behind — on land, or on water. 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.









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