Go back to the res­cue cen­tre draw­ing board


Dear edi­tor,

The an­nounced clo­sure of the re­gional Marine Res­cue Sub-Cen­tres (MRSCs) in Que­bec and New­found­land and Labrador en­dan­gers the lives of fish­ers and recre­ational users of the waters off the east coast of both prov­inces by elim­i­nat­ing the es­sen­tial lo­cal knowl­edge and ex­per­tise pro­vided by the staff of these cen­tres in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing that leads to res­cue ef­forts.

This de­ci­sion is not based on “com­mu­ni­ca­tions or tech­nol­ogy” as has been posited by the ad­vice given to the new min­is­ter of fish­eries, Keith Ash­field, but rather on the de­sire of Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans ( DFO) bu­reau­crats in Ot­tawa to meet the goal of $56 mil­lion of re­duc­tions that the Trea­sury Board has de­manded of them.

These MRSCs were set up in the ‘ 70s to en­sure that lo­cal ex­per­tise and knowl­edge was key to the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process that launches all air sea res­cue mis­sions.

It has al­ways been clearly un­der­stood that a de­tailed, in-depth knowl­edge of the lo­cal coast­line and the con­di­tions on the wa­ter are of para­mount im­por­tance in de­cid­ing how to go about the res­cue at­tempt. It is this crit­i­cal knowl­edge and ex­per­tise that re­sides within the staffs of the var­i­ous re­gional MRSCs from coast to coast to coast and on the in­land waters of this coun­try.

Con­sider there is a ves­sel in dis­tress 80 nautical miles off Cape Bon­av­ista and in the area there are two boats who might be tasked to re­spond: one is 30 miles to the south­west and the other is 40 miles to the north­east.

Tech­nol­ogy serves to pro­vide data and com­mu­ni­ca­tions with ves­sels which may be able to re­spond to the emer­gency. These tech­nolo­gies can tell the MRSC staff where the given ves­sels are, who they are and the con­di­tions in the area.

Cru­cially, it is the lo­cal knowl­edge of the staff and their ex­per­tise to in­ter­pret the in­for­ma­tion and de­cide how to go about the res­cue ef­fort that makes all the dif­fer­ence. This is done in all cases on Canada’s east coast in con­junc­tion with Hal­i­fax, as it is in charge of task­ing air re­sources, if they are to be used.

In this hy­po­thet­i­cal case, given a north­west wind and a south flow­ing cur­rent it makes more sense to “ task” the boat to the north­east to re­spond as she will be steam­ing both down­wind and with the cur­rent, whereas the closer boat to the south­west will be beat­ing into head-seas and up-cur­rent, and most likely longer.

Lo­cal knowl­edge para­mount

The de­ci­sion-mak­ing is aided by tech­nol­ogy but is de­pen­dent upon lo­cal knowl­edge and ex­per­tise. I can say with­out fear of con­tra­dic­tion that no­body on the wa­ter any­where in Canada wants to see de­ci­sions made by peo­ple un­fa­mil­iar with the waters where they are in trou­ble.

In all cases the tech­nol­ogy serves to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion, but it is the lo­cal ex­per­tise which en­ables the right de­ci­sions to be made and the right tools mo­bi­lized.

To call these MRSCs mere “call cen­tres” indi- cates a gross mis­un­der­stand­ing of the crit­i­cal role they play in sav­ing lives. One can­not blame Ash­field for us­ing that term, as it was the one pro­vided in his brief­ing notes.

If I may be so bold as to make a sug­ges­tion to­wards re­solv­ing this is­sue.

First I would ex­plain that I am well known for not be­ing po­lit­i­cal and this is born out by the fact that the Con­ser­va­tives, the NDP and the Lib­er­als all ac­cepted me as mod­er­a­tor in the only fish­eries de­bate held in our prov­ince dur­ing the last fed­eral elec­tion.

Look again

I would say to Min­is­ter Ash­field: please go back and look se­ri­ously at the brief­ing notes you were given in terms of their con­tent in re­la­tion to all the out­side in­for­ma­tion that has been made pub­lic since you made your an­nounce­ment.

Eval­u­ate the avail­able data and if you still think that clos­ing these cen­tres will not in­crease the risk to the lives of mariners, let your deci- sion stand.

How­ever, if you come to the con­clu­sion that you acted in good faith but upon bad ad­vice, then stand up in the House of Com­mons and tell the peo­ple of the af­fected prov­inces, and by ex­ten­sion all Cana­di­ans, that given what you have found out, you are re­scind­ing the de­ci­sion.

I re­al­ize that it is not easy for a min­is­ter in the caul­dron of po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing that is Ot­tawa to do this, so I would say the fol­low­ing to the mem­ber of Her Majesty’s loyal Op­po­si­tion: why not, in the in­ter­est of the lives of mariners in Canada, say to Min­is­ter Ash­field — “ We on our part will not try and make po­lit­i­cal hay out of this dur­ing a re­view and, if the facts war­rant chang­ing your de­ci­sion, we will ap­plaud you for mak­ing a coura­geous de­ci­sion rather than try­ing to take po­lit­i­cal credit for the change.”

This should not be about pol­i­tics but be about sav­ing lives. Jim Win­ter, a for­mer host of CBC’s “Fish

eries Broad­cast,” writes from St. John’s.

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