20 October 2009

When politicians become ghouls

My grandmother used to tell the story of going to a funeral in a small community where one her distant relatives had passed away. 

The story happened so long ago that neither the place nor the time was important.  What is worth recollecting is her account of the people who attended at the cemetery for the committal of the body to the ground.

They didn’t stand around, a lot of them.  The onlookers  arranged themselves sitting along the top-most rail of the little white fence with the heels of their shoes hooked in the bottom rail.  My grandmother described them as being very creepy and ghoulish.

That image has come to mind several times over the last few months.  Too many politicians in Newfoundland and Labrador have tried to make a political platform out of the tragic deaths of 17 people on Cougar 491.

They were quick to rush forward with a bunch of ideas that all turned out to be completely false and they have persisted, especially in attacking the federal government generally and the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces search and rescue service.

These politicians want to have search and rescue service in St. John’s.

But here’s the thing:  their entire argument is based on the case of Cougar 491.  In that incident – as the events themselves showed – the passengers and crew died pretty much on impact. 

There is virtually no way – even in the highly unlikely situation that a rescue helicopter had been flying alongside the ill-fated Cougar helicopter – that a single additional life could have been saved.

Sad. Tragic, even. 

But true.

Now that the consensus among politicians of all stripes has taken hold, it is apparently spreading to some of the lawyers at the Wells helicopter inquiry.  To wit, we have the bizarre case of the lawyer representing offshore workers at the inquiry.    The lawyer claims that “if DND does not have the resources or the federal government is not willing to alter the distribution of  search and rescue resources,” then the oil companies will have to do the job.

That’s an “if” that is based on the false premise that additional Canadian Forces equipment would have made a difference in this case or others like it and that the only solution worth talking is that the federal government  - correction – the taxpayers like you and me - must pay instead of perhaps requiring that the offshore operating companies bear a heftier burden for life safety, including a SAR service that doesn’t take an hour to get ready and that can fly when the weather is bad or it’s dark.

That’s actually one of the rather interesting things about the position taken by politicians, Liberal Conservative and New Democrat, who have taken up the position on the fence-top calling out advice from the sidelines:  they’ve all leaped to a conclusion that doesn’t involve the offshore operators and instead fingers the feds.
And now their argument has reached one of the lawyers involved.

Maybe people should hear the evidence before they come to conclusions.

And maybe, just maybe, politicians should stop trying to make political platforms out of corpses.