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Monday, October 24, 2011

5-Wing Goose may be on Chopping Block

Concerned over the upcoming closure of the Search and Rescue (SAR) sub-station in St. John’s?

Worried about the cutbacks to DFO science and the closure of the Fisheries Resource Centre?

Wondering how cutbacks to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) will impact local economic growth?

If you live in Newfoundland and Labrador you should be worried about the federal cuts coming our way but as if you didn’t have enough to consider here’s one more to add to the list: The closure of 5-Wing Goose Bay.

That’s right after years of lobbying Ottawa and after Stephen Harper promised -in writing - that he would once again make the strategically located base an integral part of the Canadian forces, documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen show that the Department of National Defence (DND) is looking at “fewer operational sites” in an effort to cut costs.

The documents reveal that DND will develop a national plan for property holdings with an eye to keeping only those sites that support operations.

“We will…reduce portfolio size, footprint and associated overhead costs by consolidating defence operations and programs to fewer operational sites and ensuring maximum usage of all facilities in an affordable and sustainable manner…(and)…where able, divest of legacy real property providing limited operational utility”

With the Harper government pushing departments to reduce costs the reaction of DND shouldn’t be surprising. Nor should it be surprising that after turning his back on his promises around 5-Wing that the Prime Minister is likely to give DND a green  light to manage the process without his intervention, unless of course the decisions impact specific bases inside the boundaries of more vote rich provinces like Alberta, BC, Ontario or Quebec.

We can rest assured the province will not find an ally in the PM on this and if you expect at least a token resistance from the opposition benches you might have a long wait as well.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, former chairman of the Senate’s defence committee, responded to the news saying: “…Up to 25 per cent of DND’s facilities, some of which date back to the Second World War, could be sold or shut down”.

He went on to say, “Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador is a good example of a site that has become redundant to military needs. It’s been kept alive by political pressure, and its costing millions to keep operating.”

Perhaps someone should inform the former defence committee chair that in order for Air force CF-18s, stationed in Quebec, to respond to threats over the North Atlantic they need to stop and refuel at 5-Wing or they’ll crash into the ocean. It’s a minor detail but one that we should expect the Senator to be aware of.

How that little problem will be mitigated after the closure of the base remains to be seen but the folks at DND and in Parliament are nothing if not “creative”.

With this latest approach to cost cutting now in the media spotlight voters will have an opportunity to see how effective Newfoundland and Labrador’s only Conseravative MP (and cabinet minister) Peter Penashue can be in Ottawa.

Before being elected Mr. Penashue, who hails from Labrador, was a strong defender of the need to grow the role of 5 Wing Goose Bay. It’s clear that any comments from him in response to these reports will be of great interest in the region.