A strong economy or life-saving services like Search and Rescue? PSAC video says Canadians need both

ST. JOHN’S – The Public Service Alliance of Canada hosted a news conference in St. John’s today with search and rescue survivor Oakly Johnston, as well a union shop steward for Maritime Search and Rescue coordinators and membersof the MayDay Coalition, to launch a video highlighting the absurdity of putting lives at risk to pay off the deficit.

This comes just two days after the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) revealed that the shut-downs of the Marine Rescue Sub Centers in St. John’sand Quebec City would be accelerated.

The video is part of a social media campaign arguing that it doesn’t make sense to force Canadians to choose between a strong economy and strong public services like Search and Rescue.

In the video a man hangs from a cliff over the ocean calling for help. A Search and Rescue worker is about to run to his aid when a giant squirrel appears, and, seeming nice at first, gets in the way, ransacking her supplies. The man is left hanging from the cliff.

“Like Stephen Harper, that squirrel is just a rat with good PR. It might seem like a good idea to pay off the deficit, just like that squirrel seems nice until it starts ransacking the office. But the hard reality is that no matter how he spins it, Harper’s cuts to search and rescue are going to put lives at risk,” said PSAC regional vice-president for the Atlantic, Jeannie Baldwin.

The federal government apparently plans to transfer St. John’sservices to Halifax on April 1, 2012. Quebec City’s services will be transferred in two phases – some services will go to Halifaxin the fall of 2012 and the remainder will transfer to Trenton, Ontarioin spring 2013.

“I don’t understand why the department is determined to put Canadian lives at risk. Since the first announcement we have asked for an independent impartial review of the announced closures,” said Christine Collins, President of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, the component of the PSAC which represents search and rescue workers.

The MayDay coalition wants an independent review of the federal government’s decision before the Maritime Rescue Sub-centres in St. John’sand Quebec City are shut down this spring.

“Countless studies and inquiries into maritime tragedies concluded these subcentres were essential because only they have the local knowledge and expertise that saves lives” said Merv Wiseman, a Maritime Search and Rescue Coordinator, speaking today as a UCTE Local 90915 Shop Steward representative for all the rescue Coordinators at the St. John’ssearch and rescue sub-centre. “None of that has changed.”

“Tens of thousands of Canadians including fish harvesters, ferry and tour operators and oil and gas industry workers make their living on what are the most dangerous waters in the world,” said Lana Payne, the President of the Newfoundland Federation of Labour and MayDay coalition coordinator. “Why is Harper putting their lives at risk?”

The Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’salone watches over an area spanning more than 900,000 square kilometers of ocean and 28,956 kilometers of coastline, and responds to more than 500 distress calls a year.

Oakly Johnston, a lobster fisherman for 59 years, was rescued from heavy seas near Placentia Bayon June 7, 2011, just hours before the shut-downs were announced in Ottawa. He says he and other fish harvesters are convinced the shut down will put lives at risk.

“I’m not confident that without the expertise of the St.John’s search and rescue, that I’d be here today,” said Johnston.

Visit thirdchoice.ca to view the video.

For more information: Lesley Thompson, PSAC, 902-471-6201