Re. Icebreaker re-location
The Minister of Fisheries has announced that he will transfer two heavy icebreakers from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to St. Johnís and Argentia in Newfoundland. The transfer of these two Canadian Coast Guard Ships (CCGS) will mean the loss to the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) of approximately 150 direct jobs, 30 indirect jobs and the economic activity involved in supporting two large ships that need fuel, food, supplies and regular maintenance. The economic value to HRM represented by these two vessels is estimated at over $15 Million annually.
Since the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) took over the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) there has been a requirement to rationalize real properties (buildings, wharves, etc.) where DFO and Coast Guard facilities exist in close proximity. Thus it has been perceived that it makes sense to close Dartmouth Coast Guard Base and transfer the activities presently located there to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO). In this case, however, perception is not reality.
The original plan to enable amalgamation of DFO and CCG facilities in the Halifax area included the building of an extension to the finger pier at BIO to allow the docking of the CCGS Louis S St Laurent and the CCGS Terry Fox at BIO, at a cost of approximately $6.4 Million. To reduce the capital expenditure necessary to move the two ships to BIO, an alternate plan was developed to lease a Department of National Defence (DND) facility to accommodate the CCGS Terry Fox and to move the CCGS Louis S St. Laurent to Cape Breton, either to Point Edward or to Mulgrave.
Both the initial and the alternate plans would have retained the two major ships in Nova Scotia and enabled their crews to carry on with their present lives. Either plan would place the vessels in strategic locations to support winter shipping in the Gulf of St Lawrence and summer operations in the Arctic.
The infrastructure at the Coast Guard base in Dartmouth has been allowed to deteriorate in the expectation that Coast Guard would transfer to BIO. The wharves are no longer able to support the weight of service vehicles necessary to support the ships at the base, and continue to deteriorate. The cost to refurbish the base to support the existing Coast Guard fleet is approximately $6,5 Million, the amount necessary to build new facilities at BIO. The work will have to be done eventually because if ever the Coast Guard vacates its Dartmouth base no-one will be willing to take it over if it requires at least $6.5 Million in immediate repairs.
The Coast Guard base at St. John's, Newfoundland does not have the space to accommodate the CCGS Terry Fox; indeed recent reports show that there may not be sufficient depth of water to allow her to tie up at the base; perhaps $1.0 Million would have to be expended to dredge the wharf face to allow her to dock. There are currently no Coast Guard facilities in Argentia, Newfoundland, therefore expenditures would have to be made to receive the CCGS Louis S St Laurent. Administrative and technical support services would have to be increased in St. John's, and probably reduced in Dartmouth.
There are compelling reasons to refurbish the Coast Guard base in Dartmouth. The cost to do so would be the same as the cost to build a new pier at BIO. However, even with the new pier, BIO would not be able to accommodate all Coast Guard vessels based here whereas the Dartmouth base can accommodate all of them. The work will have to be undertaken some time, so why not now? The cost would be a one-time capital cost, thus the savings recently suggested by the Commissioner of the Coast Guard would be lost for only one year, however the savings accrued by avoiding the uprooting of 150 families would go on forever.
The Coast Guard would be housed at an independent facility, enabling the rebuilding of morale and a concurrent increase in efficiency and effectiveness. Coast Guard vessels would avoid the risk of being trapped in Bedford Basin in the event of an incident involving the bridges or shipping in the narrows. The Coast Guard would also be ready for the suggested move from DFO to the Department of Public Safety. Coast Guard technical personnel presently housed at BIO could be relocated to the Dartmouth base, further enhancing BIO's position as a science-focused center of excellence.
The proposed transfer of two major icebreakers from Dartmouth to Newfoundland will be a major, and unnecessary, economic hardship for HRM, and will reduce the effectiveness of the Coast Guard and the morale of Coast Guard personnel.
Approval of the current proposal to relocate Canada's two largest icebreakers from Dartmouth to Newfoundland should be withdrawn until a more rational approach to the housing and support of these vessels can be investigated.