You published a letter recently by Jody Thomas, Deputy Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard in which she supposedly “corrected recent inaccuracies being reported about the changes to its Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres (MCTS).”
Nothing she states appears to correct any inaccuracies previously reported. In fact, there are several discrepancies in her remarks. For example, she states that at present “a significant portion of MCTS Operators’ shifts, as much as 25 per cent, was spent manually recording and maintaining the Continuous Marine Broadcasts of weather and Notices to Shipping information.”
This task is assigned to one of three operational positions. If as she states, the task takes 25 per cent of the operator’s time, then over a 12-hour shift this would amount to three hours, or six hours in a 24-hour period.
As a retired MCTS Supervisor who knows the system, I can assure you and the public that this is not the case. Perhaps in total, one hour by one staff member is spent on this task in a 12-hour shift.
Despite Ms. Thomas’ misgivings about the present Canadian Coast Guard system, this service is lauded by boaters and mariners as being far superior to systems currently in use by the U.S. Coast Guard and Environment Canada.
Ms. Thomas also contradicts herself by stating, “If a centre were to experience an outage, a neighbouring one will be able to pick up the geographical area covered by that centre until service is restored.”
This is definitely the backup procedure at present with five strategically located centres along the B.C. coast (Victoria, Vancouver, Comox, Ucluelet and Prince Rupert).
However, if the planned changes by the Conservative government are implemented and the centres in Vancouver, Comox and Ucluelet are closed, then this becomes a critical situation should either the Victoria or Prince Rupert “super centres” suffer even a short power outage or circuit interruption. The current redundancy built into the SAR system to fill the gap will no longer exist.
Imagine the service levels provided by the one remaining centre if for any reason (earthquake, tsunami, etc.) the other centre is taken out of commission. With the present five-centre configuration, it is likely that at least three centres would be sharing the added workload and service area coverage.
But with only two centres, you can well imagine that services are going to suffer and the safety of mariners will be compromised regardless of “the first priority of the Coast Guard.”
This is already the case, where remote mountain sites are struck out of service and due to budget cuts technicians are no longer on standby to repair these outages, which can often take weeks to be restored; all the while, an area has no VHF coverage monitoring for distress calls.
All of this “downsizing” is being proposed while the government is considering increased oil tanker traffic both in the Vancouver harbour and Kitimat areas.
If modern technology is going to improve whereby MCTS officers can regulate traffic and safeguard the marine community over thousands of kilometres, why stop at downsizing to two centres on the B.C. coast?
Why not remote everything by satellite and run the whole B.C. operations from the Coast Guard headquarters in Ottawa? All for the sake of saving about $2 million of our taxpayer dollars each year to be used for other non-safety issues, like renting pandas from China for $10 million, advertising the War of 1812 or Economic Action plan commercials for $16 million.
Ms. Thomas may well state that “the first priority of Coast Guard is the safety of mariners.” But it is becoming increasingly obvious that the federal government is willing to sacrifice lives and the environment to save a few dollars.