Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Closing our Sea Rescue Centre

It seems that politics today revolves around resources, and who is going to get them. This is nothing new of course. We had the deficit slashing days when Paul Martin was Finance Minister. He slayed the deficit, but the cuts were deep, and more often than not involved cutting resources to the provinces. They would then do the same to their municipalities. It was a time of restraint for the common good. It could easily be argued that we are in a similar position today.

On the 8th of June, 2011 the federal government announced that Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre St. John's was to be closed, and the responsibilities farmed back to Trenton, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The closure, an apparent first step in the trimming of some $57 million dollars and 275 jobs from the Department of Fisheries (DFO), hit the province deeply. The first glancing blow is an emotional one. Newfoundland and Labrador is a maritime province with 500 years of history. It's a proud place, with proud people, and a proud maritime tradition. The very idea of removing the maritime rescue centre breaks with that traditional, emotional tie to the sea.

There is of course the argument that knowledge of both local dialect and of the area is invaluable in the desperate moments of a crisis at sea. This is a fact. In our harbour alone there are at least five distinct dialects. There are local names and references for places on the sea and coast that are not found on maps or on GPSs. It's all part of human intelligence that electronic know-how cannot replace. Isn't that one of the big lessons the Americans learned from the 911 crisis? Human intelligence is invaluable.

Much of this crisis in the making can be layed squarely at the feet of Ms. Dunderdale. The announcement was made on the 8th of June, but the Premiere did not respond for days. In fact she was unavailable for comment a day after the story broke, because she was "out of cellular range". I'm fairly certain Ms. Dunderdale has a Blackberry. You can text with them from anywhere. Is it possible a modern Premiere could be out of phone contact for over 24 hours? In any case, she then refused the call of Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones to reconvene the House of Assembly for an emergency session to pass a unanimous resolution condemning the closure. That would have put the ball back in the PM's court and garnered national headlines. It would have forced the PM to decide whether or not the national political capital lost would be worth the tiny savings of closing the centre.

Despite a VOCM daily poll asking people if they wanted such a vote in the House (which garnered a record 31,000 votes, 83% in favour of such a move), Ms Dunderdale stubbornly refused. She placed all her eggs in a personal phone call with the PM. The logic must have been to show her power, influence, and new relationship with the PM. He shut her down in a phone call that lasted less than 20 minutes, and apparently took seven days to arrange. Not unlike the three weeks it took him to phone her with congratulations on becoming Premier. In any case, the last hope now is the rally in St. John's being held this Saturday. Perhaps Ms. Dunderdale will use the momentum of the rally to call the House into emergency session. Tough call as she won't be there. Personal reasons apparently. I thought when you were Premier you didn't have a life. All part of the sacrifice of the Office. Apparently, that only applies when it suits.

In any case, my family will be making the three hour trip to St. John's for that rally. We need the people of the province to show up in numbers and reflect their deep feelings on this issue. If they don't, the PM will likely conclude there is no real resistance to his cuts. After all, the Premier isn't showing much personal commitment and sacrifice for it - why should he. He has a mandate to reduce the deficit. Just like the 1990's. If you want to keep the centre you'll have to show the PM you mean it. I'll be going to that rally with the thoughts of our local fishermen at heart. I'll also be going with the thoughts of my Great Grandfather, William Maher, close to my heart. A fisherman who died at sea in Bonavista Bay. The ability to save men did not really exist in those days. It does now. Here's my Great Grandfather's tragic story, and please, save our rescue centre:

Tragedy At Burnt Island Tickle
In the Fall of 1907, William Maher, and another man and woman from Burnt Island, left Indian Arm (now Summerville), Bonavista Bay, in a small schooner headed for Burnt Island. A strong breeze of southwest wind was blowing at the time. Everything went well until they arrived at the entrance to Long Tickle. They were about to make tack when the main boom, driven by a gust of wind knocked Skipper William Maher and the other man overboard. The two men were unable to swim and thus were drowned. The woman on the boat grabbed the wheel and ran the schooner ashore in a cove and was rescued. A search failed to recover the bodies of the two men.
This was indeed a great tragedy to hit a small community like Burnt Island and the dark cloud from such an incident lingered for a long time. This tragedy affected the people of St Brendan's since they had many friends and relatives living on the nearby island. Also, St Brendan's and Burnt Island were part of the same parish community.
From Schooners, Skippers & Sharemen of St Brendan's
By Captain Michael Croke
Page 105

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