Coast Guard can protect the
[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m. October 17, 2006]
Canada's Coast Guard is quite capable of defending Canada's arctic
sovereignty, Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn asserted Tuesday.
Hearn's comments come a week after the Senate defence
committee issued a report that criticized the Conservative
government's plan to buy three armed icebreakers for the
The committee's report recommended that the new armed icebreakers be
given to the Coast Guard, which currently operates Canada's
"The skills to operate these vessels also rests with the Coast
Guard, and to force the Navy to reacquire those skills and purchase
a fleet of icebreakers would diminish its capacity to carry out its
other military responsibilities," the Senate report
Speaking with reporters after appearing before the Commons fisheries
committee, Hearn admitted that as Fisheries Minister he was biased
in favour of the Coast Guard.
"We are into an age where sovereignty and uncertainty in security is
there," he explained. "Is it something above and beyond what the Coast Guard can do? I personally don't think
"But that's not a decision for me. That's a decision for government."
Hearn said that despite his government's plans for a greater
military role in the arctic, the Coast Guard will continue to have a
presence in Canada's North.
"In fact our presence in the North has been enhanced and we hope to continue to do
so," he added.
While Hearn said the Coast Guard was enhancing its presence in the
North, earlier during the committee meeting the commissioner of the
Coast Guard, George Da Pont, had to explain to MPs why
representation from the North is excluded from a special insider
committee currently reviewing federal marine service fees charged by
the Coast Guard.
Da Pont confirmed that the North was not part of the initial
meetings and that they are still trying to identify a North
The Arctic Marine Advisory Committee, an
industry group that reports to the Coast Guard on such matters, was
not contacted about either the group or the review, confirmed an
industry insider to PoliticsWatch.
NDP MP Peter Stoffer introduced a motion
calling on the federal government to immediately stop charging
marine fees on vessels servicing communities across Nunavut and
Nunavik in northern Quebec. It is expected that the committee
will vote on the motion at its next meeting.
Hearn, meanwhile, spent a large part of the
meeting on the defensive as Stoffer also alleged that recently
released spending estimates show the department planned to chop
$97.5 million from its budget.
The minister and his officials adamantly denied that the cuts were
permanent and said the $97.5 million figure that Stoffer cited was a
result of previous programs that had come to an end.
Hearn maintained that his department has in fact secured a permanent
budget increase of $99 million.
While Hearn left it to his officials to explain to the committee how
the government was not cutting funding, he was later asked
point-blank by reporters if he was making cuts.
"No," he said. "When the budget comes down you
will find there will not be any cuts to our budget."
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