Coast guard gets $45m in extra funding
Money will fund vessel refits
By ROB ANTLE St. John’s Telegram
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The federal government has approved an additional $45 million for the Canadian Coast Guard this year after it was told a cash injection was needed to keep many of its existing vessels ship shape.
But the government has yet to make a decision on the next phase of a possible replacement program for aging vessels experiencing "rust-out."
The $45 million covers just the annual shortfall in coast guard funding for core operations.
The coast guard became a special operating agency in 2005, giving it more autonomy within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
But briefing notes prepared for Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn earlier this year suggested the coast guard’s future as an independent agency was threatened by the funding gap.
Shore-based infrastructure — such as bases, lighthouses and towers — are "aging and in poor condition," the documents warned.
"The continued maintenance of this infrastructure will require a significant investment in the form of new funding," advise the briefing papers prepared for Hearn and obtained by the St. John’s Telegram under federal access to information laws.
"Otherwise, program funds will have to be used and could place program integrity in jeopardy."
In 2005, the coast guard received $26 million in one-year interim funding to help bridge the annual gap. But the Fisheries Department had to cover any remaining deficit, the documents note.
Hearn confirmed that the additional $45 million in funding for 2006 has been approved.
The briefing papers advised that $12 million in capital spending was required per year by 2009-10 for fleet vessels and equipment restoration. The other $33 million was necessary to "stabilize" coast guard operations.
The funding infusion will enable the coast guard to carry out a series of refits to vessels, such as deck replacement and upgrading on the Cygnus and a major engine overhaul on the Pearkes.
The Conservatives are also following through with plans previously announced by the Liberals to spend $276 million on six new coast guard vessels.
There are also another four ships under construction for a joint coast guard-RCMP security enforcement program on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system.
Hearn acknowledged that no decisions have been made on the second phase of the fleet replacement program, but he said the government will soon turn its attention towards the issue.
"Every indication we have is everything is moving ahead according to a long-range plan, simply because the need is there," Hearn told the Telegram in a recent interview.
That next phase would include the replacement of ships such as lifeboats, marine service vessels, mid-shore and offshore patrol vessels, hydrographic survey and science and research vessels.
Replacement of the icebreaking fleet won’t be considered until later — something that could change according to government priorities, according to the briefing notes.
The former Liberal government had planned to station a coast guard ship, the J.E. Bernier, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay as part of a $96-million Northern Access Initiative to enhance the coast guard’s presence in Labrador.
The Tories pulled the plug on the plan, and sent the Bernier for disposal.