Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and committee members for allowing me to appear before you today. My name is Allan Hughes, and I am the President of Unifor Local 2182 representing 295 marine communications officers across Canada. I'm pleased to appear before you today and explain why the closure of the Comox MCTS Centre is a dangerous decision.
Before I begin, I want to say that since the committee commenced its work on this review of the planned closure, the Coast Guard seems to have accelerated its plans, and in fact staff members have already been informed the station will close in less than a month, on May 10. When the deputy commissioner was asked why the Coast Guard was proceeding ahead of this committee's recommendation, he responded, “anything committee comes back with is just that, a recommendation, not binding“.
I'd like to provide you with a little information on my background. I grew up in Vancouver and I started my career with the Canadian Coast Guard in 1993 on the first and only ab initio course held at the Canadian Coast Guard College in Sydney, Nova Scotia. I began my career at Vancouver vessel traffic services centre and worked in the Tofino centre from 1994 to 2000. I have been at Comox ever since. I also have 18 months of experience working with the RCMP in their operations and communications centre on Vancouver Island.
Every year hundreds of thousands of boaters from the lower mainland, from the United States, and from around the world come to play in the vast cruising grounds of the inside passage. This traffic is in addition to the commercial fishing fleet, cruise ships, and other commercial vessels that support industry and tourism along the coast. It's an extremely busy waterway year around.
Closing the Comox MCTS centre is not only a bad business decision, it's a reckless one, without due consideration to the uniqueness of B.C.'s south coast. The risk is to commerce and the environment, and the danger is to the public we protect and the safety network we support. If Comox is closed, the 50 officers in Victoria would end up handling approximately 40% of all the marine search and rescue cases in Canada and regulating 40% of the shipping movements in Canada.
Not a single MCTS officer or manager with operational experience was consulted before the decision was made, and unfortunately this is becoming more evident at each phase of this four-year odyssey the Coast Guard has embarked upon.
Today I'd like to share the front-line perspective and explain why Comox should remain open. One of our main concerns, should Comox close, is that the workload shouldered by Victoria would be unmanageable and make it extremely difficult to certify officers in the future.
Currently out of the 6,000 search and rescue incidents that occur each year, approximately 1,000 of those are handled in Comox. Those calls will now move to Victoria. At the moment, Victoria monitors eight remote radio sites and 45 radio frequencies at a time. After the proposed changes, when Comox closes, they'll monitor 12 radio sites and 63 radio frequencies at once in the busiest search and rescue area in Canada.
Imagine the difficulty of picking up a weak distress call of a single kayaker from the din created by the volume of 63 channels on a busy summer long weekend.
I have some personal experience. Back when I started my career in Vancouver, the workload that existed there at the time was similar to what's being planned now in Victoria. Some say it worked before, but I was there and it didn't. A moment ago I referred to the course I took at the Canadian Coast Guard College, which was eight months of intensive classroom training. Then I began my field work at the centre in Vancouver.
Despite having passed all that training, two-thirds of my classmates, eight of 12, could not cope with the workload and the complexity, and were washed out. They didn't continue to work at the Coast Guard. One went to Iqaluit and another went to Prince Rupert.
If Comox is closed, we'll be taking a giant step backwards, as this overwhelming workload and complexity will revert to the newly consolidated centre in Victoria.
When Vancouver MCTS closed in May of 2015, they had something called the regional marine information centre. This operating position was a collection, dissemination, and alerting point for pollution reports, such as the ones with the Marathassa. It notified Coast Guard environmental officers and Transport Canada with regards to defects with shipping and provided significant event notifications for government agencies and our senior Coast Guard officials.
These vital functions are now administered in Comox because the Coast Guard couldn't find anywhere else to put them last year. They tried to send them back to their original agencies such as Transport Canada.
Last week they announced they'll transfer these responsibilities to the regional operations centres, which are staffed by Coast Guard ship officers. They'll move that from a 12-hour operation to a 24-hour operation, and they'll have to hire more staff. That's going to increase the cost even further for this consolidation.
I'd like to address the flip side of the workload problem, which is of course staffing. Unifor predicts there will be a loss of approximately 20% to 30% of our current officers due to retirements and departures within the next two to three years in Victoria. The ability to train and qualify people to replace them takes up to two years. It will be nearly impossible, with the retirement bulge from now until 2021, to ever catch up, given that it takes two years to train them.
Year after year, MCTS officers work the highest number of overtime hours in the federal civil service. The closure of Comox will exacerbate an already tenuous staffing situation in the western region. Unifor estimates that this fiscal year there will be an overtime budget of approximately $2 million in Victoria, and in subsequent years $3 million. When this question was posed to Coast Guard regional management, the answer they provided was, “We'll just shut down operating positions.” What this means is that where five officers would normally staff a busy long weekend, there may be only two officers on duty to respond to distress calls.
Assistant Commissioner Girouard and his HR staff are attempting to solve the current staffing shortage, without success. There is no plan on how to replace the officers who will leave in the next five years. For those 20% to 30% who will leave in the next two to three years, they haven't even started the hiring process, and it takes two years to train them.
In addition to workload and staffing, we have grave concerns about the technical problems with the new communications system that has been installed in every station on the coast, except Comox. To give you some background, on February 9, Victoria MCTS modernized, along with the already consolidated Vancouver centre. According to the Coast Guard, the transition to the new system went well, but within days our officers were reporting echoes through both the speakers and the headsets used to monitor for distress calls and regulate shipping movements. As a result, there are cases of vessels not hearing MCTS centre transmissions, and officers not hearing vessels. It appears that early on the Victoria single-site testing, before they energized the whole system, was fine. As soon as they put it all together, they ended up with the problems, which you can see in the email I obtained through access to information.
A major problem with the consolidated centre, if Comox is closed, will be the noise generated on the distress channel, channel 16, and on our working channels. Remember, that's 63 separate channels. Currently, at peak times radio calls can be missed, as simultaneous transmissions from other boaters cover distress calls. That's how busy it is. As our officers are attempting to call the vessel in distress, calls are often overridden by other marine traffic, including B.C. ferries just making blind safety calls entering Active Pass.
There are limits to the number of radio communications, sites, and incidents an officer can safely and effectively manage with a positive outcome. Passing out search and rescue information is vital to the successful conclusion of saving lives and protecting the environment.
The area of responsibility covered by Victoria, should Comox close, would encompass 40 dedicated search and rescue vessels, the 442 Squadron search and rescue aircraft, and over a dozen police and fire department resources. This is how busy that area is.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the audio problems continue to this day at Victoria, Prince Rupert, and Sarnia. During a visit to Sarnia in November, I personally witnessed officers, on nearly every radio call, use radio playback equipment to listen to recorded calls in an attempt to decipher what had been said, sometimes with success and sometimes without.
I'd like to refer you to the email, which is this one here, obtained through access to information and that was generated out of the Victoria MCTS centre with the new, modernized equipment. This also discounts the testimony previously provided by Coast Guard officials that the problems had been solved.
Our officers are fearful of what will happen after the May long weekend, which is the start of what we affectionately call the silly season due to the noise and the number of search and rescue cases in that centre.
During the March 10 hearings Coast Guard management were asked if the new communication system had ever led to a safety incident. A few months ago, on February 2, there was a near miss incident involving a U.S. tug towing two barges with a deep-sea vessel. A collision almost occurred and this was during a prolonged communications outage at Mount Ozzard in Ucluelet. Officers in Prince Rupert sat helplessly and watched on radar and transponder as a collision nearly occurred and they could not intervene due to that outage. This highlights the dangers of consolidation.
I would also like to address the additional point that was made on March 10 by Assistant Commissioner Girouard when he appeared before this committee. At that time, he discounted the tsunami threat to that centre. I have a graphic here provided by Fisheries and Oceans showing the tsunami wave entering Juan de Fuca Strait and bombarding the area where Victoria MCTS centre is located and the four-metre risk zone.
Lastly, I'd like to point out that the Comox MCTS centre building is not closing. It's not being sold. In fact, it will remain in place along with the technicians that work there. The equipment that is modernizing Victoria is already located in Comox. This is the newest building that the Coast Guard has for MCTS. It was built in 1993 to post-disaster standards.
In conclusion, we believe that closing Comox and moving it to Victoria is not in the interest of public safety, fiscal prudence, or operational feasibility.
I have one more overhead for you to look at. This is a map of the Saanich Peninsula put out by their emergency planners. This area is where the Institute of Ocean Sciences is located and where the centre will be located, which is in the tsunami planning zone, four metres above sea level, which is an evacuation zone.
I first want to give you a bit of my background. I've been working at sea for 40 years. I started at a very young age, attending the Prince of Wales Sea Training School in Dover, England, at the age of 15. I completed my marine training and went to sea at 16 years old in the merchant navy, working for the P&O line. I returned to Canada and joined the Canadian Coast Guard in 1972. I have worked in most Coast Guard stations on the west coast, and I've also opened four stations. I also sailed on offshore petroleum vessels. I was a superintendent of all Pacific Coast Guard stations and also superintendent of the office of boating safety.
I opened the Campbell River Coast Guard station, which is just north of Comox. Local knowledge is so important to have. When you open a station, you invite the public to an open house. You start to meet people. These people in your community are the ones who will quite often help you do your job in a more effective way. You get to know the mayor and the council, the police chief, the EHS, the fire department, and Customs, all of which are very important. You could get a call or get somebody reporting something on another side of the island, and you could probably phone a citizen and ask them to take a look out their window to see if there's anything going on. That kind of knowledge is vital in operating a station, and if you're not there, you're not going to get that rapport with the public anymore. It will be gone.
As for Campbell River, north of Comox, we used to call that “heaven or hell”. The two tides that meet from the north end of the island and come up from the south end of Vancouver Island meet right outside Comox. You can get 20-foot standing seas there and a 16-knot run in the narrows, and the narrows are only 700 metres wide. Captain George Vancouver once said that it was the most hazardous body of water he was ever in.
You have a million passengers going through that pass every year to Alaska, plus all the fishing vessels and all the public vessels. The American vessels come up here. This goes on year-round. I know that sometimes when I used to take people from Ottawa on a tour in February or December, they'd see all those vessels out in English Bay. That goes on all year. Nothing shuts down here in the winter.
I don't know how Victoria radio is going to handle all that marine traffic, particularly in the summer, when we have events like the Symphony of Fire, which is a big fireworks challenge. That brings 400,000 to 500,000 people to Vancouver, and a lot of them come in boats. We did a count in English Bay once, and there were 1,700 vessels. When it's all over with, they all decide to go home, and there are collisions and accidents, and maydays going off all over the place. Plus, now Victoria radio is going to have to look after Comox and Tofino. I really think they've gone too far with the cuts already.
I'd like to tell you what it's like at the other end of the microphone and being on the Coast Guard cutter. You have those engines running and you're trying to do your job at a mayday. I'd like to share an experience with you. I went out once in a terrible storm at night. It was blowing 60 knots and gusting to 80. We were out for about nine hours. I lost all my antennas, and we were starting to flood. We were down to one radio, a portable radio with low wattage. We called the Coast radio station and told them what our problem was. I had the crew members tell them that we would call every 15 minutes, and that if they didn't hear from us, they would know something was wrong. We need clear, precise communications, particularly in those kinds of conditions.
The other thing I'd like to share with you is that quite often when we go out, everyone's coming in. We go on a long search. We could more than likely be the on-scene commander, and that means you're in charge of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, various surface vessels—up to 20 or 30 surface vessels—and you have to plot all those positions and log all the search areas that they're doing.
Then we do what we call a sitrep, a situation report that goes through Vancouver Coast Guard radio, or Victoria Coast Guard radio now. And all that information is vital to get to the rescue centre so they can start doing drift plots. Coast radio station is my lifeline. If I am in trouble, we'll be calling them just like I did when I almost lost the cutter.
Comox, as far as I am concerned, is a lifeboat, a ship's lifeboat. If we lose one of the radio stations or if we lose two of the radio stations on the flood plain they are on, we're going to be down to nothing. We need Comox in there as a backup. As Allan said, it's been seismically upgraded and would withstand a major event.
The other thing is if we lose communications after a disaster, the Coast Guard's responsible for reopening the traffic lanes, repositioning buoys, the signs on the water, and to get the commerce going and to get the help in that is vital to do our job. Without communications, you have nothing.
I believe I've said just about what I really wanted to share with you on how it was for us at the other end of the line. I guess it all depends on how much risk the government is willing to take, and the thing that concerns me is that the very people who are making this decision are the very people who advised the former government to shut down Kitsilano Coast Guard base, the busiest Coast Guard station in Canada. Then we had that oil spill, and there was no response. Those are the people who are making decisions now. I briefed the of Canada, and he reopened Kitsilano.
I hope this can be turned around, and thank you so much for the opportunity to speak to all of you.
Thank you, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Moxey, for your testimony. I find it interesting that Mr. Moxey closed with it. Of course, as the Conservative member I find it amusing that the new government has wholeheartedly rejected the advice of the Coast Guard to close down the Kits Coast Guard station and has wholeheartedly embraced the closure of the Comox MCTS station with the same advice from the same people, as Mr. Moxey said.
We're here to talk about that second part, the closure of Comox. In previous testimony, in a meeting quite some time ago now, on March 10—this question is for Mr. Hughes—Mr. Lick, director general of operations of the Canadian Coast Guard, said that they estimated closing Comox would save $500,000 to $700,000 a year. Unifor countered, saying that it would cost up to $1 million to $2.2 million per year in extra overtime charges for the new centres.
Then a response to a question I asked to Mr. Hodge, your colleague, indicated that Unifor wasn't opposed to consolidation, but just to doing it this way, and he talked about Unifor's recommendation as being to move Vancouver to Victoria, Tofino to Comox, and make no change at Prince Rupert.
That was Unifor's recommendation. He indicated to me, after the meeting when he looked at some preliminary data, that he thought it would actually be cheaper to maintain those three stations than to consolidate, as is now planned. I'm wondering whether you have had a chance to reflect on that idea. Do you concur with it?
Obviously this consolidation was done. There are 22 stations going to 11; there's an attempt to save the government money—or at least that used to be a priority with the Conservative government. But perhaps you can talk about whether there will be any cost savings and, if not, why not.
Unifor has filed lots of access to information requests. For anybody who's gone through that process, they're not always timely in their arrival. I was hoping to have some recordings of that equipment for you today. I could certainly walk out onto the operations room floor in any of those centres with my cellphone and record something, but that's not accessing it through the proper channels. Those communications are privileged, and certainly they have to be screened before they're released for public consumption.
With regard to the training, and then the staffing plan for Victoria, Coast Guard management doesn't even know how many people are actually coming from Victoria. They handed out to our officers two weeks ago letters that had a reporting date of last year. We don't even really have a firm date of when we're supposed to report. Nothing's been told to those officers.
The bottom line is that they need 50 officers to make that run on a 1960 staffing standard. It doesn't take into account anything like maternity leave, paternity leave, care and nurturing leave, or any of those extra provisions that have been granted to working people over the last 40 years. The staffing factor of 5.5 per operating position is out the window. It should be up around seven. This committee heard testimony with regard to that in the early 2000s, saying it should be increased to seven.
So running short...we have a lot of part-time staff who work in Victoria. To train people up to be ready to go, it takes two years at that centre. We have officers who are 20-year veterans and have never worked at Vancouver harbour. They haven't even started their training, and it takes months just for that sector in Vancouver harbour because of the complexity and what's involved in actually making sure those tankers get through, and get through safely, without incident.
I'll back up and I'll look at the St. Lawrence Seaway. We monitor all the shipping and boating activity that occurs down the St. Lawrence.
The radio sites are maybe 1,000 feet, 500 feet, or even at sea level, or whatever it is for the river, and they're basically stationed in a linear line.
Vancouver or Victoria are not like that. They're in a big circle. When you receive on multiple sites, which is the norm there, you end up with this echo. As I alluded to, the technicians, I'm sure, if it's not part of this contract that has been let to the company, are pretty resourceful. They'll figure it out. But I don't know why we have to modernize a modernized centre to make the equipment work to a standard.
In Comox, with the equipment being there, it's in preparation to move the signals down a phone line to Victoria. The desks, and literally a touch screen, is all that's separating the equipment from working in Comox.
Our gravest concern is the amount—even if the technical issues are fixed, which I'm sure they will be eventually—will be the noise level in that operations room and being able to detect a kayaker who has rolled over into the water and is calling for help on a one-watt handheld. Meanwhile, ferries are calling each other and yachts are calling each other. Our ability, once you have that all coming through one speaker in Victoria once Comox closes, is going to become more challenging and it may get missed.
We have a difficult time doing that already.
It is my pleasure to be here today to discuss the planned closure of marine communications and traffic services, MCTS, in Comox.
I have introduced, but I'd like to again introduce my two colleagues. Canadian Coast Guard's deputy commissioner of operations, Mario Pelletier, is with us today. Deputy commissioner Pelletier joined the Coast Guard in 1985 as an engineering officer cadet and has served in various positions, including director general of fleet, as well as assistant commissioner for central and Arctic region before becoming deputy commissioner of operations.
Brian Bain has joined us from Victoria. Superintendent Bain is an expert in marine communications and traffic services in the western region. He is superintendent of the MCTS program, and he has spent his career in MCTS, beginning in 1988 when it was called Vancouver Coast Guard radio. I am pleased to have his operational and regional expertise here today. I don't believe there is a job in MCTS that superintendent Bain has not done.
My remarks today will cover the following themes: the role of our MCTS centres across the country, the history behind the decision to modernize and consolidate our centres, the steps taken to ensure employees have been well served, and the audio quality in our modernized centres. Following my general remarks, of course, we'll be happy to take questions.
The Canadian Coast Guard's MCTS centres play a pivotal role, as you've heard, in saving lives, protecting our waters, and assuring the safe and efficient movement of vessels for the smooth functioning of Canada's maritime economy. Navigation and communication technologies have advanced significantly in the last decade. In 2007 the Coast Guard began to make significant investments to modernize our MCTS systems to bring them into the 21st century.
The implementation of the new technology not only allowed for greater reliability of our systems, but it also allowed for increased efficiency of the overall MCTS program. We were able to merge 22 of our centres into 12 without changes in service to mariners. To date the Coast Guard has successfully consolidated nine MCTS centres and transferred their operations to newly modernized, state-of-the-art centres in locations across the country. The consolidation of MCTS Comox into MCTS Victoria represents the final element in this long-standing project and is on track for May 2016.
The work Comox has been doing will continue to be delivered in Victoria, and our newly modernized MCTS centre in Victoria is ready to accept this expanded area of operation.
Building on the lessons learned from success at nine other centres, we will continue to provide the high level of service that mariners and Canadians have come to expect from the Coast Guard. Modernization and consolidation is providing us with the tools that are cutting edge. We have systems that are not only more reliable, but flexible and adaptable. Due to these new systems we have the infrastructure in place to continuously modernize in the years ahead. I want to emphasize that consolidation does provide Canadians with a better, more reliable service.
When we talk about MCTS our focus is always drawn to systems, screens, cables, and wires, but I want to take a few minutes to talk about and recognize our people. All Coast Guard officers, including those who work in our MCTS centres, represent the finest in their fields. As the Coast Guard has undergone these changes, we recognize that the impact on employees has been significant.
Since I have been commissioner, we have worked regularly with unions to ensure a smooth transition. All employees at MCTS Comox were notified about the consolidation in 2014 and were offered positions in Victoria or Prince Rupert. Anyone who opted to move to another MCTS location was offered relocation assistance. We have ensured that staffing levels and workloads at the modernized centres were appropriate for the areas they cover.
The new technologies will ultimately reduce workload for our employees, and we have added surge capacity at each centre to deal with peak periods and various crises. This is something we did not have at all of our previous centres.
As we have modernized and consolidated our centres, have there been technical issues? Yes, absolutely. Technical problems are expected in a project of this size. Have we tested the system rigorously? Have we worked to find solutions to problems as they were reported? Yes, absolutely. The excellent working relationship that exists between our contractor, Frequentis, and employees has allowed us to work together to find solutions throughout the consolidation project at each centre.
We understand this transition has been difficult for our employees. They are adjusting and adapting to many changes, and these adjustments take time. Change is difficult. I remain committed to an approach that ensures changes are implemented smoothly and successfully. In short, we all want this project to work. I believe it will. It is already working.
I would like to address statements made by Unifor about the technical issues in Prince Rupert leading to safety concerns for mariners.
Following these statements, the deputy commissioner of operations initiated a technical review of audio quality issues that had been reported in Prince Rupert. A team of technical and operational specialists from outside the region of B.C. were brought in to assess the quality of radio communications and examine how issues are logged, communicated, analyzed, and resolved.
The technical review allowed us to engage in a dialogue with staff and to understand exactly when and how these issues are occurring. Audio quality issues such as echoes, reverberation, static, and speaker feedback, were uncovered, similar to findings at every other centre when they were in the early stages of their modernization. I'm confident we will resolve the technical issues in Prince Rupert, as we have successfully done in other centres across the country in early stages of the project. In fact, we already have.
Management is working closely with staff to address how these issues are reported, so that we can support our employees in a timely way. MCTS officers are trained to handle situations professionally when there are reception issues, ensuring proper communication with the mariner. Many factors can affect the quality of audio, such as the vessel's radio and antenna, weather, wind and waves, electromagnetic interference such as solar flares, and the geographical location of the caller. These factors have always existed and are not consolidation outcomes.
There have been comments made about MCTS Victoria and Prince Rupert being located in tsunami zones.
MCTS Victoria is not located directly in Victoria. It is located in a sheltered bay west of Sidney. Nor is it in a tsunami planning zone for the province. It is situated some distance from the beach, with an elevation higher than four metres above sea level. A report made by the Capital Regional District, which includes Sidney and surrounding communities, indicates that in Sidney the maximum water level of a tsunami is projected to be two metres in height.
Like much of the coast, Prince Rupert is located in a tsunami planning zone; however, the location of the centre is sheltered, due to the number and location of islands at the entrance to the port. The MCTS centre is located at the extreme inner end of the port, and the largest wave in that area, produced by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in 2012, was less than 0.7 metres.
As we do today, Coast Guard's MCTS centres will continue to play a role in communications early warning systems for tsunamis and earthquakes.
Allow me to address the claim that visual monitoring is required for MCTS centres to carry out their functions. There are no instances in which line of sight is required today. Radars and other electronic surveillance systems such as an automatic identification system, or AIS, provide us with the eyes on the water. If MCTS centres required line of sight, they would be unworkable in a country frequently susceptible to rain, fog, and blizzards—sometimes all on the same day.
In conclusion, members of the committee, we will analyze the results of your study with great interest. As with any national, long-standing project that has been in play for almost 10 years, there have been lessons to learn and improvements to be made. There is no reason to delay the consolidation of Comox into Victoria. Delays will result in significant financial pressure and cost to the Coast Guard and will postpone key decisions for employees. To be specific, the operating costs of keeping MCTS Comox open would be up to $1.5 million a year, and the one-time cost to modernize and reopen the centre would be much higher.
I'm proud of the results of the project to date. From day one, the project has been rooted in the principles that there would be no change in existing MCTS coverage and services and no disruption to services as we transition into the new system. Our MCTS officers themselves have been integral to this project. Across the country and throughout the project, they have contributed their expertise in testing the new system. It has not been done in a laboratory; it's been done by employees in the centres to ensure that the systems meet their demands for what they know they face daily. I thank them for their efforts, and I know that this collaboration will continue as we near the final stage of the project.
This project has allowed the Canadian Coast Guard to continue in our unwavering commitment to provide reliable, safe, and vital services to mariners in Canadian waters.
Thank you. We are pleased to take your questions.
Yes, when the 2009 workload study was conducted, Victoria was considered to be the threshold centre, meaning that this is the workload that we would set as a standard across the country at a maximum.
When we have eight operational positions in Victoria, four of those will be what we call the vessel traffic positions. Those are the ones that act proactively to ensure that commercial shipping remains safe. If there's any risk of conflict or if there is an incident that's reported to us, then the idea is to ensure safe passage for these larger ships. Those operating positions will not be touched. They will be identical to the way they are now in terms of their areas of responsibility.
There are four more positions that we call the safety positions. Those are the Coast Guard radio positions and there are four of those. Right now, in the structure that we have, there are three from Victoria and Vancouver together. There are two at Comox. One of those will be reduced, so we'll have a total of four rather than five.
I wasn't the one who did the workload application; however, my understanding is that because of the automation of the contiguous marine broadcast, which is a weather service that we provide on behalf of Environment Canada, it will allow us to combine those five positions into four.
There are some other positions, supervisory, managerial, administrative assistants, and one operating position that we call the regional marine information centre that are also going to be reduced. The supervisory positions are going to be absorbed into the one left at Victoria. Will that create extra workload for the supervisor? Yes, it will, but with the regional marine information centre, that was the one I had the greatest concern about when I first looked at the study.
When I looked at the whole coast, there is one aspect called offshore reporting that we gave to Prince Rupert. That's operating now and there are two more. One was the alerting service which is for environmental response and another called notices to shipping. Those were more difficult and I identified those as two that should really go either somewhere else or have some additional support.
That went up to national. They heard that and now those two services are going to what we call the regional operation centre. That concern has been addressed in my mind. What we end up with in terms of operating positions are the four traffic positions remaining intact, the Coast Guard radio positions reduced from five to four, and the administrative positions reduced as well.
I first want to say that I'm a little troubled that Mr. was able to prompt the witness for an audio recording that I had no idea was going to be made. Obviously there is some awareness on that side of the table—but not on this side of the table—that those would be made available. I think that should have been done during the witness testimony, as opposed to during the questions and answers. It certainly raises a number of questions for me, I'll put it that way, that this was done in that manner.
Secondly, I'm a little surprised that we're even here today given what Liberal members of Parliament were saying in British Columbia during the campaign. I want to quote from Hedy Fry's speech, a response in reply to the Speech from the Throne, in which she said, “What is really important is that the people of Vancouver Centre who re-elected me will be pleased” with the throne speech and “some of those promises, especially the ones we have heard...that we will reinstate the Kitsilano Coast Guard base and the marine communication segments that were cut to British Columbia”. That was on December 7 of last year. She said that this would be overturned from the previous government. That's obviously a broken promise there, and, I would say, misleading the House.
Anyway, that has nothing to do with the witnesses who are here today.
My question is for the commissioner. We've heard testimony—and it's troubling testimony—that after this committee embarked upon this study there was in fact an acceleration of the effort to close the Comox centre, while there had been a previous indication that there would be at least an extension until October. We subsequently heard that in the last two weeks while we were on a parliamentary break that the timeline was moved to May of 2016, five or six months earlier.
Can you assure this committee that this timeline was in fact not affected by our decision to study this closure?