Critics say SAR announcement missed the mark
Federal NDP defence critic Jack Harris said Thursday's search and rescue announcement failed to address the important issue of co-ordination between multiple agencies.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced six improvements that will make search and rescue crews more responsive to emergencies both on land and at sea.
It came just two days after federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson released his recommendations on search and rescue operations.
That report concluded that search and rescue is crumbling, in the face of serious staffing and equipment issues.
Harris, the MP for St. John's East, said the auditor general outlined the need for a national plan to co-ordinate the coast guard, the department of defence, and the RCMP in search and rescue operations.
He said by ignoring that important recommendation, the government is compromising the public's safety.
"There was no national policy and plan put in place, despite the mandate that's been there since 1986. If you don't have that plan, you don't have the kind of co-ordination that's expected," Harris said.
"That was one of the failures of the Burton Winters case. All of these things flow from having a plan in the first place. We don't have that, [and] that's a failure of management. That's mismanagement of the Government of Canada — that's what has to be fixed."
Harris said he made a motion this week for the auditor general to present his recommendations before the defence committee in Ottawa, but that motion was voted down.
Timing of announcement
Harris said the timing of MacKay's announcement was no accident.
He said he believes MacKay announced changes to the system to smoke-screen criticism.
But MacKay said the changes have been in the works for seven months, and aren't in direct response to the auditor general's report.
Meanwhile, a retired search and rescue manager also said he thinks the announcement had everything to do with the report.
Clarence Peddle co-ordinated the response to the Ryan's Commander, which capsized nine years ago, and claimed the lives of two brothers.
Dave and Junior Ryan made it into the life-raft, but did not survive the wait for the search and rescue helicopter.
He said the search and rescue changes announced on Thursday are "smoke and mirrors" and "window dressing."
"I don't think it was coincidence that there was a full-court press to announce very little, really," Peddle said.
"I think it was trying to say it wasn't prompted by the auditor general's report."
Peddle said politics are to blame for failures in the system, and things will stay the same as long as politicians have the final say.
"If you want to bring it down to one word, that's to be honesty," he said.
"They have to stop playing games, and they have to look at the real issues. There's never been an honest investigation into any search and rescue incident."
Peddle said he's most disappointed in the fact that McKay didn't establish a 30-minute response time for all marine distress calls.