Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Search-and-Rescue System in Need of Rescue, Says Auditor General

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Search-and-Rescue System in Need of Rescue, Says Auditor General

Article excerpt

Auditor says rescue system at breaking point

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OTTAWA - The federal auditor general says the country's search-and-rescue system is in distress and some elements are near the breaking point.

Michael Ferguson's latest report issued Tuesday singled out the Royal Canadian Air Force, saying a continuing shortage of pilots and trained crew puts the system in jeopardy.

He also said the country doesn't have enough -- or the right type -- of aircraft to respond to emergencies across the vast, open spaces of land and sea.

The Harper government has repeatedly promised to deliver new aircraft to replace the air force's aging fleet of C-115 Buffaloes and older model C-130 Hercules, the workhorses of rescue missions.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has often referred to the procurement as a "top priority."

But the program, started under the Liberals in 2002, is not expected to deliver a new plane until 2017.

"National Defence has not sufficiently replaced and has had difficulty maintaining its SAR aircraft at the necessary level to respond to SAR incidents effectively," the auditor's report said.

Ferguson noted the Hercules do not have sensors and data management systems found on search aircraft in other countries.

The cost of maintaining the nearly 50-year-old Buffaloes has climbed to $20 million a year and there's a shortage of spare parts.

Keeping both aircraft flying until 2017 will require substantial cash for life extensions.

Ferguson raised concerns about the availability and range of rescue helicopters, especially the CH-146 Griffon, which cannot get to Arctic without refuelling.

Liberal critic John McKay said inaction endangers lives.

The auditor would not go as far as to say that, but indicated change is urgently required.

"At this point, we would expect they would try to put something together; a plan; a strategy that brings all of this together to address all of the concerns that we've raised," he said.

"The concerns that we raised were not particularly difficult to find. It's not hard to find aircraft that have been around for 45 years. Hopefully, this report will help focus the attention that needs to be put into this service in order for it have an overall plan and strategy."

The defence minister said he accepts all of the auditor's recommendations, and acknowledged the program has faced too many delays.

"The reality is that while the process is underway, it has not delivered the aircraft we need, that our SAR (technicians) deserve," he said. "It's complicated in that we have a number of departments that touch on this file for the delivery of the aircraft itself."

The government expects to call for tenders this fall, he said.

New Democrat MP Malcolm Allen said the report speaks to the Conservative government's mismanagement of the military.

"We need these things to happen and happen quickly and this delay process has simply continued on and on and this really speaks to this government's ability to manage its departments," he said. …

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