The marine rescue sub-centre story is one of those things that typifies politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s entirely the creation of a few politicians with their own agenda and a whole bunch of other sincere, well-meaning people have gotten sucked into what is – essentially - a complete pile of shite.
There’s no surprise that both Jack Harris and Merv Wiseman turned up commenting on this story. They’ve both got a history of exploiting this issue as well as people’s good nature and genuine concern for public safety.
Both Wiseman and Harris have made the same argument: we need to have this special office in St. John’s (where Wiseman worked) because language “in Newfoundland and Labrador is an issue here as well” as it is in Quebec. It is hard to know if this is meant to demean francophones, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, or both. But make no mistake it is an argument built entirely on the most condescending, patronising, insulting approach one can imagine.
What the language argument does do, however, is trivialize the very real problem of explaining yourself in a moment of crisis to someone who does not speak your mother tongue at all or speak it well enough to understand what you are saying.
That problem certainly exists for francophones in Canada, regardless of whether the official languages laws existed or not., In some places, we should ensure that rescue centres have people fluent in Chinese, German, Japanese, and other tongues.
That’s not even remotely the same as someone speaking a local dialect of English, as in Newfoundland.
Jack Harris told CBC about testimony given to a parliamentary committee by rescue centre staff. The staff described how they sometimes play tapes over and over to make sure they understood the information from a caller.
Well, that isn’t because the Newfs can’t speak properly. It is something that happens many times in emergency situations where everything from the quality of the voice transmission to the way someone pronounces words can make one word sound like another. Rescue experts listen and listen again to calls so that they can get it right. It’s what makes them professionals
Harris’ example is the sort of disingenuousness that he and others must engage in to fabricate a cause to lead. It is the sort of despicable behaviour we have seen before and SRBP has condemned before. Now is no different.
In the year or more since the federal government closed the office Wiseman worked at, not one single life has been jeopardised as a result, let alone lost. We know because had one episode occurred the political vultures would have been all over it.
Wiseman, who ran for the federal Conservatives before they shifted his job to Halifax, is now working behind the scenes for the provincial Liberals. They’ve taken up this cause and you’ll see a comment from Liberal leader Dwight Ball in the CBC story as well. The Liberals have been on this issue for some time because they think they can score some points by somehow blaming the provincial Conservatives for it.
That’s no less despicable than any other political use of this issue but the only reason the Liberal play has been working is because the provincial Conservatives have been stupid enough to play along. The Conservatives are stupid because this is an issue they cannot win.
The federal government will not change its mind because there is no sensible reason to have a small office in St. John’s that did nothing of any consequence. The provincial Conservatives pledge to keep up the fight. Every time the story makes the news, the public is reminded not of the Conservatives’ vigilant fight but of their impotence.
To display their finest political impotence, the Conservatives put intergovernmental affairs minister Steve Kent, right, in front of reporters to tell everyone that he has written yet another letter that will produce nothing but a polite sod-off in reply.
Kent told reporters he knows of no incident made worse by the federal decision to close the St. John’s office. Kent also played the language card. Odd that Kent didn’t mention the provincial government’s effort during the European trade talks to squeeze money for search and rescue as “compensation” for a change in provincial policy. Compensation is the word Kent’s cabinet colleague used in the formal statement of the provincial government’s position. Impotent is clearly not the only thing Kent and his pals are: incompetent goes right along with it.
There are plenty of good arguments provincial politicians could make to encourage their federal counterparts to improve search and rescue in the province. So far the provincial crowd haven’t made any of them. That’s not surprising given that the politicians making the most noise about search and rescue come across as nothing more than a cluster of ghouls, vultures, and arseholes.