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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SAR office Closure - Protest Perspectives

With the planned closure of the search and rescue coordination center in St. John’s much is being said about lives being jeopardized as a result of the 12 positions to be cut there.

It goes without saying that the fight for adequate safety is a noble one, but are some of those who are opposed to the closure reacting out of concern for the public or for themselves?

This is not to say I agree with the closure. If there is any doubt at all about the level of public safety then the federal government has an obligation to err on the side of caution. What I’m questioning are the motives of some of the most vocal.

Could they have a hidden agenda?

The first out of the blocks to protest this closure were local politicians and union leaders, not fishers and oil rig workers as one might expect. With that in mind I wonder if they are solely concerned with safety or if their positions are tempered by the urge to protect the jobs that generate union dues, tax revenues and ultimately votes?

The answer to that question won’t affect whether or not safety will be impacted, which I believe it will, but it’s often wise to consider the potential motives behind a bandwagon before jumping onto it.

The first job of a union leader is to protect jobs and related union dues.
The first job of a City Councillor or Mayor is to protect the city’s tax base and the services dependent on those taxes.

The first job of a federal or provincial politician is to get re-elected and there’s no better way to do that than to be seen as protecting the public.

Taking a strong position on this particular issue serves each group equally well regardless of the safety concerns you or I might have.

Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will remember the call to re-open the Gander weather office a few years back. Just as today, politicians and union officials lead the charge demanding that the office be re-instated because the local knowledge it would utilize was in the interest of public safety. The public jumped onboard and put the heat on government. Eventually the office and jobs were re-instated.

Has anyone seen a marked improvement in weather forecasting since that time? I haven’t.

The same argument is being made now.

A case could be made by the union that there are better places for cutting jobs than a search and rescue coordination center and they’d be absolutely right. Unfortunately it’s an argument they can’t make. A job in Nova Scotia or Alberta is just as important to the public sector unions as a job in Newfoundland and Labrador. Dues are dues, so it’s a self defeating position.

It’s a position local politicians might well make and, along with their stand on safety, some of them have in a far more muted sort of way.

A more honest approach for all involved might be to simply say they want to protect the jobs about to be cut, but they won’t do that.

That approach would be far less likely to whip up the kind of public outrage necessary to spur angry calls to MP offices and letters to news editors. In fact it might even backfire on them when people realize it’s their tax dollars paying for those jobs.

Saving lives, now that’s something that hits home and can easily be sold to the masses on a nationwide scale.

My point is that even with the public’s sincere concern over safety we need to be wary of the messengers leading the way. It’s a slippery slope so we all have to be leery of where they might eventually lead us.

We may not like this particular closure, and for good reasons, but that doesn’t change the reality that jobs need to be cut in the public sector and no matter where those cuts happen there will be union leaders and politicians pounding their chests in protest.

If the cuts were to clerical staff at Revenue Canada or clerks on Parliament Hill they would fight just as hard to protect those positions but remember, it’s us who pay for government bloat. In that light, whose interests are really being served?

As a cost cutting measure Ottawa plans to eliminate 6,000 employees from the payroll. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but when you consider that there are more than 365,000 federal employees in Canada it actually equates to a modest 1.5% of the federal workforce.

In a private sector company that type of cut would likely be considered a minor adjustment. Not even news worthy.

You and I may see the closure of the search and rescue office in St. John’s as a safety concern but the public sector unions view it as the tip of a much bigger iceberg and they will say or do anything to avoid it.

They are supremely focused on protecting their membership, as they should be, and it’s far easier to gain public support for saving lives than in trying to convince taxpayers to fight for a wasteful public service.

Nationwide (factoring in both federal and provincial staff) the number of public employees is approximately 3.6 million, one for every 10 people in the Country.

When you consider that the other 9 out of 10 who don’t work for government include infants, students, the unemployed and stay at home parents among others, it doesn’t take long to figure out that a very limited number of taxpayers are paying for a heck of a lot of public salaries and benefits.

Our collective taxes pay for those jobs, for the bankable sick time and for the generous pension plans that go with them and in the end it seems there is less and less left in our pockets with each passing year.

Government pensions alone far eclipse anything the average person who pays for them can ever hope to see in their own workplace if they have a pension to look forward to at all.

These are staggering figures and they point to the clear need for public service cuts on the federal and provincial level.

The test for any government rests in determining which positions are truly necessary and which are clearly excessive.

There are only so many tax dollars to go around and whether public service employees get their pay cheque from a federal, provincial or municipal government, there is only one taxpayer ultimately footing the bill.

Personally I’m glad federal downsizing is on the table and I’d love to see the provinces do the same. My primary concern is that the cuts are not deep enough and that a less than intelligent approach is being employed to determine where the axe should fall.

Truthfully, Ottawa might be the best place to start the cutting rather than in a province that already has a lower than average share of federal presence. A good target to start with would be the job of the bureaucrat who recommended this office closure in the first place.

Since I believe safety is a valid concern I’m fully behind saving the St. John’s office.

To be fair, I’m also for saving it because the numbers tell me that Ottawa has already stripped a disproportionate number of jobs out of Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 20 years. My problem isn’t with saving the search and rescue office, it’s that I don’t like being led around by the nose or played for a sucker to serve a hidden agenda.

When it comes to a choice between cutting a dozen assistants to the assistant to the deputy ministers (as an example) I’d much rather see that than witness the last few people at a search and rescue center turn out the lights and lock the doors behind them. I wonder if the union leadership and politicians leading the charge today are willing to publicly state the same.

1 comment:

Ericnfld said...

I agree with your comments but I think the closing of the Search and Rescue Centre in Newfoundland is just another way Harper has found to punish Newfoundland for it's political stand. You won't see Quebec SAR Centre close...already that closure has been postponed for at least a year. People on the ground in Quebec (blogs) are predicting that it won't close.

Harper's hidden agenda is alive and working well.