international image now trumps domestic safety

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is so focused on exerting Canada’s military influence abroad that it’s ignoring its…

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is so focused on exerting Canada’s military influence abroad that it’s ignoring its responsibilities at home.

Specifically, Canada’s ability to conduct search-and-rescue missions in BC and Yukon is being compromised by the aged aircraft tasked with the job, according to a military evaluation of the CC-115 Buffalos.

And an internal review by National Defence has determined there’s no guarantee Canada’s 41-year-old search-and-rescue planes will be capable of patrolling BC and Yukon until 2015.

That’s the date Harper’s government has set for replacement of its Buffalos, the workhorse of Canada’s search-and-rescue efforts.

Instead of replacing those aircraft, Harper’s Conservatives opted to spend $3.4 billion on four C-17 cargo lifters for use in Afghanistan and disaster zones, such as tsunami-ravaged Sumatra and Burma, which was recently devastated by cyclone Nargis.

(An embarrassing sidenote: at the end of May, then-Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier made an off-the-cuff promise to send aid to Burma in Canada’s new C-17s. But Canada’s new cargo planes weren’t ready to scramble and, instead, Ottawa had to rent the Russian Antonovs, as it had to provide aid to Sumatra.)

Meanwhile, Harper’s crew has delayed buying new search-and-rescue planes for Canada’s Northwest.

The existing planes are plagued by breakdowns and replacement parts are scarce.

A review conducted between April 2006 and 2007 warned that the plane’s ability to continue the mission was “precarious,” according to documents obtained by the Globe and Mail through access to information.

“Although we currently have support for all systems, nothing guarantees DND that current suppliers and refit and overhaul contractors will remain faithful until 2015,” said the report.

“With a very limited number of DHC-5 aircraft still flying in the world, Buffalo-related support is a dying business and companies will not hesitate to withdraw when a more lucrative opportunity comes along.”

Replacing the search-and-rescue planes is expected to cost Ottawa $1.4 billion.

Instead, Harper’s government spent more than twice that on the C-17s, which will see intermittent use on the world stage.

It was a prestige buy — done to enhance Canada’s international image.

Meanwhile the Buffalos used to patrol the nation’s West Coast and for rescuing people lost in the region’s mountain ranges are no longer dependable.

The military itself doesn’t know if they will last another couple of years. But their replacement is now at least seven years away.

That’s not fair to the pilots and search crews working on the aircraft. It’s not fair to citizens in BC and Yukon. And it’s not fair to travellers visiting the region.

It comes down to government priorities — in this case, domestic safety and security versus its international image.

Harper’s focus has been clear and consistent.

And, in this case, travellers in BC and Yukon are less safe as a result. (RM)