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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Liberals Are Consider Privatizing SAR in Canada

By: LEE BERTHIAUME, Ottawa Citizen 

An RCAF CH-149 Cormorant helicopter on exercising with a Canadian Coast Guard vessel.
The Liberal government is considering whether the military should continue to be involved in search-and-rescue missions, or rely instead on private companies and other alternatives to save Canadians in distress.

The idea has been raised as part of the government’s defence review, and is sure to stoke strong reactions both inside the military and across the country.

The previous Conservative government aired a similar proposal five years ago, before letting it quietly die.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said last week that everything was on the table as he launched consultations with the public, parliamentarians and defence experts on how the military should be structured for the future. Consultations will continue until the end of July, with a new defence policy to be released in early 2017.

As part of those consultations, the government released a 36-page document asking for feedback on what the military should — and should not — be doing. One section focuses specifically on the military’s role in search and rescue, and asks if there are “models for alternative service delivery that could be explored.”

The Canadian Armed Forces responds to more than 9,000 distress calls each year, the document says. But only about 1,000 actually require military search-and-rescue helicopters or airplanes. The rest involve co-ordinating other government departments, volunteers and private companies hired to help. The Conservatives raised the possibility of privatizing search-and-rescue operations in a meeting with representatives from various aerospace firms in 2011. The idea didn’t get far, however, after a public outcry.
HMCS Saskatoon near Esquimalt, British Columbia and An RCAF CH-149 Cormorant helicopter that is practicing personnel transfers.
Among those who spoke out against the proposal was Liberal MP Judy Foote, who wrote in a blog post at the time that she was “appalled by the government’s notice to companies that the government would be exploring the privatization of searchand-rescue operations.”

Foote, who hails from Newfoundland and Labrador, is now the minister of public services and procurement, which oversees military equipment purchases. Her department is currently managing a $3.1-billion project to replace the air force’s ancient search-and-rescue planes.

Paul Ives, mayor of Comox, B.C., which is home to the air force’s search-and-rescue school as well as one of its search-and-rescue squadrons, said he was surprised to learn that privatizing the service was being considered.

A Canadian Coast Guard communications centre is slated to close in the Vancouver Island community next month, and Ives said there would be an economic impact if search and rescue were privatized as well. But he was more skeptical that private companies could provide the same level of service as the military.

“Those guys who are rappelling down to rescue you are professionals to the nth degree and they’re a very proud part of the military,” he said.
An RCAF CC-146 Griffon helicopter waits to take off as CAF personnel from 424 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron conducted a search and rescue (SAR) during exercise TIGEREX
“I wouldn’t want to be out in the wilderness somewhere expecting somebody to come in on a rescue mission who’s working on a contract basis and worrying about, ‘Can we really do this? Will it cost us more than it’s worth?’ ”

York University professor Martin Shadwick, who has written extensively on military search and rescue, said the actual monetary savings of privatization or moving the service somewhere else such as the Coast Guard would likely be very small.

At the same time there would be a number of intangible costs, he said, such as damage to military morale and the Force’s links with average Canadians given that search and rescue is one of the military’s most highprofile activities.

“So there’s a whole lot of things that often don’t fit nicely on a balance sheet,” he said. “Getting rid of it completely, I don’t think it’s in the broader national interest.”