09 February 2012

Response and Responsibility #nlpoli #cdnpoli

“How satisfied are you with what they [DND officials] had to say?”

And with those words, CBC Here and Now’s Jonathan Crowe asked the man whose officials were responsible for directing the search for a missing 14 year old boy in Makkovik last week what he thought of explanations offered by people who weren’t directly responsible for the search efforts.

Municipal affairs minister Kevin O’Brien took the opportunity in his reply to obfuscate, to hide provincial responsibility for directing the search either through Fire and Emergency Services or through the police.  His officials were just responding to requests from the police, in this case the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The uninformed – and there are plenty of those out there – might assume that because the RCMP are a federal police force, therefore this was a federal option.  The provincial officials were just helping out as good citizens.  That’s not the case at all:  the police work for the province, but O’Brien was apparently quite content to slough this off on the feds, even if implicitly.

A federal failure is an implicit theme local media reports have taken up and O’Brien went right along with it.  He talked about the need for clarity, by implication from the Canadian Forces, on timelines and why they made key decisions.

Over the past couple of days, other politicians have taken up the same sorts of commentary.  For his part, Crowe, was just running with the same tunnel vision that has gripped some local media in covering the story of a search that ended in tragedy with the discovery of the young boy’s body.

There’s nothing new in any of that.  The politicians and the media have tried to pin responsibility for other tragedies – like Cougar 491 – on the air force search and rescue teams as well.  Then, as now, though, the effort to find a scapegoat for a tragedy is powerful and wrong.

National defence officials didn’t help themselves on Wednesday.  In a joint news conference with the acting commander of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s B Division, Rear Admiral David Gardam talked about the military role in the mission.  Gardam and his senior air staff officer talked about when things happened and why the military did certain things.  You’ll find the raw video in this CBC story.

But while Gardam may have understood where he fit into the scheme of things, you could tell by their questions, reporters didn’t.  As a result, they never really figured out who was really supposed to answering questions about how the search went and why things happened.

Gardam also appeared tense and uncomfortable. At the end of the newser, as if it wasn’t already bad enough, Gardam interrupted the air staff officer who was answering a simple question simply.  Gardam then took responsibility for deciding to use CH-146 Griffons, instead of CH-149 Cormorants, as if that made a fundamental difference.

Gardam may have thought he sounded leader-like with his abrupt “I’ll answer that” interjection. He was wrong. His reference to moving air assets around to meet the mission may work in the mess, but the talk of what he does during lobster season – in Nova Scotia – came off as a load useless macho posturing.  The mainland reference and his complete inability to pronounce the name of the community grated on ears and confirmed for local audiences that the feds are out of touch with anything in this province.

The real answer was not that Gardam’s balls were big enough to make the tough decisions.  It was that the 444 Squadron aircraft were closer to the scene and had the capability (apparently including forward-looking infrared) to get the job done. By cutting off the questions and walking out, Gardam just made a bad situation that much worse. 

As a result of the DND newser, the Department of National Defence wound up taking it on the chin for something that they didn’t do. Gardam didn’t cut off the story.  He guaranteed the anti-DND turn the story has taken will have legs and the controversy will grow. 

His political masters will be still be dogged out by the likes of Jack Harris and Ryan Cleary. Since Gardam took responsibility for aircraft movements, someone will soon wonder why he thought it a good use of Cormorants to heli-lift the defence minister out of a fishing camp but that a search for a 14 year old boy would compromise his primary mission.

No one should be surprised if Gardam’s Career Indicator Light blew out in the gust of wind as he left the room.

Most of that is Gardam’s fault, not because he’s the boss but because he just screwed up so badly.  What isn’t Gardam’s fault belongs to the idiot who thought it was a good idea to use people to talk to the media  who didn’t actually direct the operation.  The old axiom for military public affairs stills works:  the closer to the pointy end, the better.  The people who do the job know best at every level.   Everyone else is a know-nothing REMF, and it usually shows in embarrassing ways. 

For all the political posturing by the ghouls and for all the media tunnel vision on this, nothing will change the simple tragedy that is at the centre of this:  A young boy died cold and alone.  He died not because of anything anyone did or failed to do but because sometimes really bad things happen no matter what you do.

The family will grieve.  Time will help them move on but they will never get over their loss.

For the police, volunteer searchers, provincial officials, sailors, air crew and all the others who tried desperately to find young Burton Winters, they know they tried and that sometimes this is what happens despite all the good efforts. That may be true but it won’t help them sleep at night.

As for the ghouls and the REMFS and the other shitbirds?

All the rest of us can do is just carry on.  There is nothing you can do about them anyway. They hold no real responsibility and they deserve no better response.

- srbp -