14 September 2010

A left wing Tea Bagger

Pity the poor federal New Democrats.

Just as they turn themselves in knots over a private members bill on the gun registry, along comes defence critic Jack Harris sounding like a left wing Tea Bagger but without Sarah’s Palin’s intellectual depth or subtlety of mind.

Harris managed to get himself standing before the offshore helicopter safety inquiry. The former provincial New Democratic Party leader decided that his closing remarks were a good time to launch another unfounded assault on the integrity of the men and women of the Canadian Forces who provide search and rescue service.

"As long as that Canadian Forces Response [sic] time is as slow as it is — and inadequate in my view — then there may have to be more severe restrictions on the use of helicopters to transport offshore," said Harris, MP for St. John’s East and defence critic for the federal NDP.

That’s the quote from a story carried by cbcnl.ca. Harris recommended that offshore helicopter flights be limited to daylight hours during the weekdays since, as the Telegram put it:

The Department of National Defence’s (DND) search and rescue response times are 30 minutes on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and two hours at all other times.

The only problem is that Harris knows the response is not slow, as he alleged, nor is it confined to certain hours during the day, as his comments suggest.  Harris knows the correct information that because of evidence presented at the inquiry.  The information is there.  Why he choses to ignore it remains a mystery.

The offshore helicopter inquiry, directed very ably by retired Supreme Court justice Robert Wells, has revealed a great many details of offshore helicopter safety and travel that many – likely including Harris  - did not know before. It is all information that should have led Harris to make other comments, ones that fit within the inquiry mandate.  That information was there as well.  Why he chose to ignore it and instead launch yet another attack against the men and women of the Canadian Forces remains a mystery.

But it is not the first time Harris has made comments contrary to the facts.  In an interview with CBC Radio, Harris called for an agency separate from the offshore regulatory board to set standards for offshore safety.  He made the comments while discussing safety standards set by Transport Canada, the agency separate from the offshore regulatory board that sets safety standards for the offshore.

On another occasion, Harris said that on the day of the Cougar incident, the Gander search and rescue squadron was “off station,” that is outside the province. They were not outside their operational area and, as evidence at the inquiry confirmed, the presence of all the region’s search and rescue aircraft in Sydney Nova Scotia for an exercise sped up some aspects of the response.

Harris has accused the Canadian Forces of failing to conduct a study of the Cougar incident out of fear of what might be revealed.  He had no basis for making the allegation  - yet another cheap shot - but yet he made it anyway.

Outside the bizarro world where Harris might be considered an expert in anything military, let alone search and rescue, it is hard to fathom why the New Democrat defence critic persists in sloganeering. Perhaps someone has told him that it plays well with the base.

Well, it is hard to imagine New Democrats being quite so stupid as Harris’ comments suppose. New Democrat voters are, in fact, considerably more intelligent than Harris’ remarks allow.  Nor are Harris’ comments consistent with what any Canadian would expect of a national party that is serious about wanting to form government.  But apparently, they do at least wish to pose as such a party.

Interestingly enough, though, when Harris had the chance to question Colonel Paul Drover at the Wells inquiry, he wasn’t quite as bold in his assertions.  Faced with someone who knew the facts, Harris would only cluck about the gold standard. In itself, that is revealing.

Harris’ anti-military comments reduce the New Democratic Party’s position to a caricature.  They diminish the men and women of the party.  What is worse, Jack Harris’ scurrilous comments attack the men and women who risk their lives to rescue others.

If Harris had the courage of his convictions, if he really is  - as some contend - some sort of an expert, he ought to do one simple thing:  go to Gander sometime soon and speak with the men and women of 103 Squadron and their families.  Not a private meeting, but one with media present.  Let Harris explain – in his expert opinion – how it is that 103 Squadron screwed up the Cougar response.  Let him point out why their response to search and rescue calls, generally,  is too slow and how they might do it better.

And then let Jack sit back and hear from the real experts. That would be something worth broadcasting in prime time.

Sadly, it will never happen.  But it won’t be because the men and women of the Canadian Forces are afraid of the results.


It won’t happen for the same reason Jack says one thing to the media, but another thing when faced with a real expert.

- srbp -