Nfld. & Labrador

Privatized search and rescue alarms N.L. officials

The federal government is considering privatizing components of its military search and rescue, a possibility that has officials in Newfoundland and Labrador battening down the hatches.
A search and rescue helicopter hovers during a training exercise near St. John's in March. (CBC)

The federal government is considering privatizing components of its military search and rescue, a possibility that has officials in Newfoundland and Labrador battening down the hatches. 

A report in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on Thursday said that government officials will discuss the option of privatizing the Department of National Defence's search and rescue operation when they meet with aerospace industry representatives in August.

In that meeting, government will also discuss buying new fixed-wing aircraft.  

Liberal member of the house of assembly Kelvin Parsons says people in his province should be worried, given the federal government's announcement in June that it will close the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre in St. John's.

"We ought to be very concerned here because we already saw what they tried to do with our search and rescue centre here," said Parsons. "And it's very disconcerting if now they`re now going to turn around and consider possibly farming it out to private industry."

Marine-based search and rescue services are shared by the Department of National Defence, which provides air support,  and the Canadian Coast Guard, which provides sea-based support.

Liberal MHA Kelvin Parsons is concerned about search and rescue privatization discussions. ((CBC))

If a ship's crew off the coast of Newfoundland runs into trouble while at sea and radios for help, the coast guard would send a rescue crew aboard a ship or a small boat, and DND would send a rescue crew by airplane or helicopter.

In a statement, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the province needs to be consulted on any changes before any decision made by the federal government.

"Safety is the No. 1 priority," said Dunderdale's statement.

Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union president Earle McCurdy says the province should not even discuss privatization of search and rescue services. ((CBC))

"The federal government needs to be very careful here and ensure that they consult with the people who may  be impacted by any changes they might consider, before taking any action. Furthermore, any changes considered should be subject to a vigorous review involving input from both experts and those on the ground who have the local knowledge which is so important."

Earle McCurdy, the president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union in St. John's, doesn't like what he's heard.

"I don't think the current government believes in improving the service," said McCurdy. "I think this is all about ideology and their determination to privatize everything that moves."

McCurdy also had advice for Dunderdale. "Don't talk about discussing it, or being open to discussion. No, it's not on. No, we're not doing it. No, we're not talking about it. We're expecting that service to be provided."

Officials from the Department of National Defence have not commented. 

A statement from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard component of marine search and rescue, said DFO has no intentions of privatizing the Canadian Coast Guard.

The DFO statement added, "The Department of National Defence, the department responsible for Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue across Canada, is looking at all options to ensure the best possible equipment and service. This includes exploring new ideas with industry to ensure a thorough consultation."