Two federal members of parliament from Newfoundland and Labrador are alarmed at news that the federal government is looking at privatizing some elements of search and rescue services.


MP Jack Harris thinks the idea of privatizing search and rescue services is abhorrent. (CBC)

"The notion of privatization of search and rescue capability is abhorrent," said Jack Harris, the MP for St. John's East and the NDP defense critic.

A statement from the government on Thursday said that the Department of National Defence, which is responsible for fixed-wing search and rescue, is looking at all options to ensure the best possible equipment and service.

Harris acknowledged that DND has been wanting to replace its aging Buffalo and Hercules aircraft for nearly a decade, but Harris said that shouldn't mean privatization.

"The first priority of the Canadian Forces is the defence of Canada and the protection of Canadians," said Harris. "That's what we have a Canadian Forces for. And search and rescue is a part of the mandate of the Canadian Forces.  So the idea that they're proposing to contract out this core responsibility to private industry, they're really letting down the people of this country on their mandate."

Scott Simms, the Liberal MP for Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, noted that some elements of search and rescue, such as maintenance of DND's Cormorant helicopters, are already privatized. But Simms said he wants the government to be more open about what it's now considering.

"What they should be doing right now, if they have a vision for defence, Peter Mackay, Stephen Harper and Peter Penashue, where are you?" said Simms on Friday.  "Talk about what your vision is of what search and rescue is going to be in the future. And don't sneak up behind us and gobsmack us like you did on the Marine Search and Rescue Centre, which is out in St. John's, that's going to be shut down. That was a huge shock." 

The federal government announced in June that it was closing the Marine Search and Rescue Centre in St. John's.

St. John's city councillor open to privatization idea

Although reaction to the possibility of Ottawa privatizing search and rescue services has been mostly negative in Newfoundland and Labrador, a city councillor in St. John's said privatization might not be a bad thing.

Danny Breen's brother died in the crash of Cougar Flight 491, an offshore oil helicopter which crashed into the ocean near St. John's in March 2009 .


St. John's city councillor Danny Breen is open to examining privatization. (CBC)

"I would be willing to look at just about anything that provided a higher level of service and protection to the people that work offshore," said Breen, "But I think that would have to be a very, very detailed analysis."

Breen said he's still concerned that privatization may only be about saving money, and not maintaining or improving service, and he cited the small amount of money Ottawa will save by closing the Marine Rescue Subcentre in St. John's.

Meanwhile,  Simms plans to attend the Aug.16 meeting between federal government procurers and aerospace industry representatives.

"I just want to get in on this conversation about the private sector and how they feel search and rescue assets should be used in this country."