Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue No. 5 - Evidence - May 31, 2016


OTTAWA, Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 5:03 p.m. to study Maritime Search and Rescue activities, including current challenges and opportunities.

Senator Elizabeth Hubley (Deputy Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Deputy Chair: Good evening. My name is Elizabeth Hubley, a senator from Prince Edward Island, and I am pleased to chair this evening's meeting. Before I give the floor to the witnesses, I would like to invite the members of the committee to introduce themselves.

Senator McInnis: Tom McInnis from Nova Scotia.

Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Carolyn Stewart Olsen from New Brunswick.

Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine, from British Columbia.

Senator Enverga: Tobias Enverga from Ontario.

The Deputy Chair: The committee is continuing its study on Maritime Search and Rescue activities, including current challenges and opportunities. We are pleased to welcome Randy Strandt, National Chair, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary; and Pat Quealey, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue. On behalf of the members of the committee, I thank you for being here today. I understand you have opening remarks. Therefore, in the interests of allowing as much discussion as possible in the time available to us, opening statements should be about 12 minutes in total. Please proceed.

Randy Strandt, National Chair, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary: Thank you, senator. I will be brief.

I am National Chair of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. It is a volunteer role that I serve in. In my day job, I am a chartered accountant and CFO for a small company in Vancouver. I am a volunteer on the water in North Vancouver as well and have been active on the water for many years.

I will go through the slides and share a few notes on each one as I go through. Certainly, if you have questions, we look forward to those.

The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is five organizations across the country, and there is a map I will show you in a moment, divided geographically across the country comprised of 4,000 volunteers who give their time each week and month in search and rescue. It involves training and responding to incidents as the Coast Guard does. They are quick and effective and exist in coastal communities across the country. If there is a population base there, likely we have people, crews and assets there. Those boats can be community-owned, dedicated-purpose response vessels — so rescue boats. On occasion, they are private vessels; or they may be fishing vessels in communities where that make more sense and they can provide support that way. I can assure you that the volunteers have a significant impact on the SAR system in this country on the water, on the ground and in the air, which I am not talking about today. They have a significant impact on the outcomes of search and rescue in Canada.

The maps are divided regionally west to east: the Pacific Region, or RCM SAR; the Central and Arctic, which covers a large area; Quebec; Newfoundland and Labrador; and the Maritimes. Each of them operates in slightly different ways but provide the same level of service and the same training across the country.

This map, which is very small on your slides, shows the asset locations. To give you context, where there is a community with a population, there is likely a Coast Guard auxiliary station. We included the B.C. one in more detail but probably too small for you to see clearly on the maps you have. It highlights that those boats are in almost every remote and big city in both B.C. and across the country.

One point to make is that it becomes difficult for us to put volunteers where there are no people. We don't pay people to partake so, if they don't live there, it is unlikely we can put a station or volunteer asset there and effectively service. In smaller communities, it becomes difficult for us to maintain that response capability.

The next slide has some pictures of what you might think an auxiliary asset would look like. It could be a Coast Guard vessel showing up, a purpose-built rescue boat, or a fishing vessel or private vessel coming to assist you. The crew will be trained and professional and effective in what they do but may have different assets depending on where you are in the country.

The next slide shows the structure and how we fit into the SAR program. It is key to see that we are part of the program, as is the Coast Guard, who are our partners. We respond to pages from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, who receive calls and task us to respond to incidents. If you are in a boat on the water and are in trouble, you call us in the same way that you call the Coast Guard. We are a national asset and we are tasked by them to respond in quick order. We also work with many other agencies, including the Department of National Defence, police and fire departments, and local agencies in our communities to assist them in their needs.

I am now on the Coast Guard slide. They obviously are a key partner federally and provide funding to us to operate. It's the agency we work with closely most of the time on the water when conducting rescues. We share a common goal: to save lives on the water. Canadians enjoy fairly effective rescue coordination and effective results.

The next slide is entitled "Unity of Effort." This is key for us. The Coast Guard mentioned this when they were here. This is a joint effort. Depending on where you are, you depend on volunteers to a great extent, but it is also Coast Guard and National Defence and community groups who make this system work. It isn't just one level or organization that makes sure that the person in the water is responded to effectively and quickly.

We share the risks. The water environment can be dangerous, and we are responding when others are going for safe harbour. We do everything we can with the Coast Guard to train jointly and implement policy to ensure we don't have significant risk to our crews when they go out to rescue someone.

Interagency is key for us. Obviously, the Coast Guard is important to us, as are other agencies. Local agencies are really important to us. If you are in a small community, the police and fire and ground SAR teams become a key relationship for us to make sure we work well with them.

If I had one message for you today, it is this slide. Our members are Canadian citizens who, for whatever reason, have decided to volunteer a significant time and effort to do what they do. Without those 4,000-plus volunteers, there is no volunteer SAR program, and Pat and I are not here today talking to you. They do this on a daily basis. They are on call 24/7 to respond. When you talk about Canadians, these people represent the best about Canadians and that volunteer spirit.

It is important to note on the training slide that these are trained crews. Sometimes you think of volunteers as being ad hoc or showing up when they want to. That couldn't be farther from the case. Our volunteers are highly trained and effective at what they do. There is a significant time commitment in training and in responding. When they respond to you, it will be a professional person picking you out of the water every single time. That requires a lot of commitment and time.

I talked about response earlier. There are about 2,000 rescues every year, conducted by volunteers in this country. That represents about 25 per cent of all incidents. Whenever a marine incident happens in this country and someone calls for help, a quarter of the time it will be a volunteer team that comes to help. This isn't all the hours we count, but 170,000 hours last year, and 97 per cent of all persons in danger were rescued, which is a significant milestone

Disasters and emergencies are boats that are on fire, they are sinking, and people are lost, disoriented. That is what we respond to.

It is important to note with respect to the volunteer model and how that works that it is the norm, and in many places in the world it is the only model they use. If you were to travel to Europe, most of the countries would rely almost entirely on a volunteer model. They have been doing so for hundreds of years, and they are very effective and highly trained and regarded as probably the best rescue organizations in the world. We model much of what we do after them and use them as our example to follow.

There are some pictures to give you an example. The first set is not from Canada; these are boats from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Holland and New Zealand, and these are volunteer-oriented organizations running professional, effective rescues.

That model has been adopted here to some degree. The next page shows vessels from Pat's region, again purpose- built rescue boats. You would not know them from a Coast Guard vessel that came up beside you, other than the logo on the side. Professional level training goes with that. It is required to be standardized across the country so that crews who operate those vessels operate them the same wherever they might be.

We talked about value, and that is hard to quantity, although the Coast Guard did quantify more than 10 years ago what it might cost if you had to pay for this service. The value they came up with was $37 for every $1 invested, if you had to pay for that level of service across the country.

The value to us is more than money. It is the 200-plus lives every year, people who are plucked out of the water and saved who might not have been if it weren't for a volunteer crew responding.

We appreciate that two years ago the government they recognized ground, marine and air volunteers with a volunteer tax credit; so every time we fill our tax form out, my wife appreciates that there is a small return of $400 to our family for the volunteer hours that Canadians put in.

The committee asked us to come up with challenges and opportunities. The challenges are the current program and its support, and to expand upon that, how we might go outside of our mandate. Sometimes the contract we have with the Coast Guard limits us to doing services that are in the Coast Guard's realm of activity. Many of our volunteers and the organizations have the ability and desire to do more in their community, and sometimes it is difficult for us to achieve that with our funding and/or insurance requirements.

As well, supporting evolution: we are good at maintaining the status quo, but it becomes difficult for us if we are looking for new ways of doing business, whether it is technology or training or interoperation with other agencies It is more difficult to achieve those goals going forward than we would hope.

I don't think anyone would show up in Ottawa and not say that funding is an issue; and certainly it is an issue for us. We have been funded by the federal government through the Coast Guard to the tune of $5.2 million. That has been consistent for the 10 years that I have been around. During that time, inflation and other challenges keep coming, and it becomes more difficult every year to maintain the level of service we provide with that consistent funding.

We find most of our groups are fundraising. You will see them in your community raising funds, relying on charity, and in the case of B.C. using the province to support the acquisition of boats and assets. To be clear, none of the assets you have seen are funded through that contribution agreement. We are not allowed to use that money to fund any asset. It is only used for operation, so fuel, maintenance and training, but nothing can be used to fund any of the equipment you see. Whether it is a PFD or life jacket on the crew member, or a boat or any other asset they use, it would have been fund-raised by that community to pay for that.

Utilization is key for us. This is a recurring issue for us. You put a lot of time and effort into training volunteers, and they put a lot of time and effort into it, and the issue is if they are not utilized, we lose them. People have competing things where they can volunteer or put their time toward, and if they don't feel their skills and experience are being utilized, we lose them. It is important to make sure they are utilized appropriately across the country.

Broader challenges across the country and beyond marine: We see the lack of a nationally directed SAR integration, so back to marine, land and air, and how we bring those together. They all work very well independently, but when it requires them to work interoperably, it becomes more difficult, and we would see that as improving.

There is often an ad hoc use of volunteers in SAR and public safety in general across the country. If that was more consistent and directed, it would be a better level of service. Flexibility is key so that we can interoperate with industry or other not-for-profits to expand what we do and share. We could be better at that. If that was allowed, we would be more effective.

Going beyond our mandate: Being able to respond to natural disasters, earthquakes or large-scale events, and train for that. You have a group of skilled volunteers that could be of value to the government and local communities if they are utilized that way.

That leads me to opportunities, which is more important to us. There are a lot of opportunities. The ones we highlighted are the expansion of volunteer service. I think you should use volunteers to a higher level and get more out of them across the country if it was invested in. It is a cost-effective way to increase capacity, if you are lacking it. The Arctic is a perfect example. We know we are lacking capacity, and we are investing money there to increase capacity in a relatively cost-effective way in small communities.

Lack of resources: If other paid resources are called away, having volunteers in place mitigates that risk of not having another asset in place, again an effective response by using volunteers.

I mentioned having volunteers who are able, capable and trained to respond to natural disasters in their communities. Fort McMurray recently, where people from around the world are being called in to help, is a great example. You need trained help. With the volunteer sector, in this case marine volunteers, they are trained in incident command and first aid and all the skills you want them to be trained in — communications and radio — and are ready to respond. That is a ready set of assets, people who can respond very quickly to those types of emergencies, and we maybe underutilize them in this country. They are trained, experienced and willing and able to respond.

I will wrap up with my last two slides. I mentioned SAR integration. If we were better at integrating across ground, marine and air SAR on a more regular basis, when those large incidents happen we would be better prepared to deal with them and respond.

In supporting environmental response, which is a new area for us, you could utilize volunteers to mitigate some of those concerns going forward.

Reducing risk in our communities: You can reduce risks by having those trained volunteers, either for marine or other needs, in the community.

Earlier I mentioned cooperation with industry. Building partnerships with industry and other non-government organizations across Canada and beyond our borders that have skills or technology that we could access would make us more effective.

Getting back to my earlier point, what you have here is a bunch of capable, passionate volunteers who love what they do. They put a lot of time and energy into it, and they believe it brings value to them but more so to the people in need. We are partners in SAR and public safety. This represents the true value of what it means to be Canadian, to give back if you can give back. Certainly, our members live those values. It is a model for innovation. I mentioned the volunteers and what they have done and the innovation they've brought to search and rescue. They think of new ways to do what we do on a daily basis in this country.

That would conclude my thoughts. I thank you again for inviting us here today.

The Deputy Chair: Before we go to questions, Mr. Quealey, do you have anything you wish to add?

Pat Quealey, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue: No. We worked on this together. Randy has done a tremendous job of representing our thoughts. I clearly look forward to your questions.

The Deputy Chair: Our first question goes to Senator Poirier.

Senator Poirier: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here. My first question is for me to understand a bit more. I was looking at the five regions when you did your presentation. They are also the five regions where you can see the Canadian Coast Guard, right?

Mr. Strandt: Correct.

I should clarify that there are three regions now for the Coast Guard. It used to be five, the same five that the Coast Guard Auxiliary has.

Senator Poirier: I understand you are a not-for-profit organization and work with volunteers to help out wherever the need is in the community. Who is the first responder? Does the Canadian Coast Guard reach out to you if there is an emergency and they need supplemental help? Does the community go to your organization first for volunteers before they go to the Canadian Coast Guard? Where do you fit in?

Mr. Strandt: They will respond identical to a Coast Guard asset. A person calling for help wouldn't see any difference. They could call a rescue coordination centre or 9/11. It would be directed to a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. They will phone and page the local crew, whether they're a Coast Guard asset or a volunteer asset, and a boat will respond. The person who called for help would not know where the call went or who's responding. In their mind, it will be through a Coast Guard response that someone's coming to help. All our calls are directed through the Coast Guard.

Senator Poirier: If one is going out, the other would know automatically that they went.

Mr. Strandt: Yes.

Mr. Quealey: Maybe I can add to that as well. You may recall from previous testimony from witnesses a description of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. It's the same Joint Rescue Coordination Centre that tasks our assets. A Coast Guard controller in that joint centre makes a decision based on the asset availability, its suitability to the task and lots of different factors in which they are experts. As Mr. Strandt described, it is based on that assessment that they choose the adequate resource to respond.

Senator Poirier: My second line of questioning is on funding. You mentioned in the slide the amount that you receive for the 15 years, but there is also the mention of $500,000 for the Arctic region. Was that extra funding a one- time deal or will it be added annually?

Mr. Strandt: That is recurring funding to support the operations as they expand in the Arctic.

Senator Poirier: Your slide showed pictures of the different assets you utilize. If I understood, you said they are boats from other countries and not necessarily from here. Is that right?

Mr. Strandt: There was one slide showing an international model.

Senator Poirier: The fundraising in the community is for training and equipment; is that right?

Mr. Strandt: Right. Most of the training operations are funded through our contribution agreement with the Coast Guard. All of the equipment is fund-raised.

Senator Poirier: Do you have any funding that comes from the provinces of the areas? Is there any provincial funding?

Mr. Strandt: We do. I will defer to Mr. Quealey because his region, more than any other, benefits from that.

Mr. Quealey: The example of British Columbia, and I am not conversant with how it is in every other province, is a good supportive model federally, provincially and locally in terms of the support we receive. Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue benefits from a program provincially, which is the Community Gaming Grants administered through the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development in the province. Effectively, that is the result of the relationship through the lottery corporation. Funds are sets aside for specific activities. In this context, money is set aside for public safety initiatives.

Our organization benefits tremendously from this approach in the province of British Columbia in that it allows us to acquire those boats that you saw — not the international model but the slide that depicts Canadian potential. You will note it says "provincial funding and local fundraising."

Part of that program is not that the money comes only from the province. As Randy described, our individual stations — over 40 in British Columbia — are fundraising on their own. The communities are contributing to this capacity as well. As Randy described, that only helps that sense of fabric in the community in terms of it is them supporting an organization within their midst.

Senator Poirier: You are not aware of other provinces across Canada doing that, are you?

Mr. Quealey: I anticipate there are similar programs, but I can't speak to them with authority.

Mr. Strandt: Certainly there is support in other provinces, but not to the same extent.

Senator Poirier: Do you have donors and sponsors that regularly help your organization?

Mr. Strandt: Yes, we have them locally and regionally. Occasionally nationally people will support us — corporations and individuals.

Senator Poirier: What is your biggest challenge? You talked about different ones in here. Is your biggest challenge finding the number of volunteers you need or is the challenge more toward the funding you need to get the proper equipment and training you need? Is your challenge more to keep your well-trained volunteers active enough in the community? Is there enough community support for the type of work that you are trained to do to be able to utilize to the top priority that you would need in the community?

Mr. Strandt: You asked me about the biggest challenge. Certainly, funding is key. In my role, I would probably go to funding, mainly because I am a chartered accountant and I think of money first and how we afford to keep things going. The volunteer utilization is also important. It takes large amounts of time and energy to train a volunteer — it doesn't happen overnight. When you have them trained, active and engaged, you want to keep them. Keeping them active and interested is important. We do a great job of that, but it is an ongoing issue. As the generations change, you have different drivers and different goals, and keeping current with what people want to do is important for us. To date, we have done a good job of that, but I don't think we can let our guard down, either.

Senator Stewart Olsen: I would like to put on the record that I hear what you are saying and one of your big challenges is the lack of a nationally directed SAR integration, ground, air and marine. I have been concerned about that. I am happy that you brought that up because I think it is something we have to look at.

Can you tell me how I would become a volunteer?

Mr. Strandt: That is a good question. It would probably depend on where you are. First and foremost, you need to live close to the sea where we are stationed or where a community resource exists. Once you meet that condition, you would approach that local community or the regional organization and put your hand up and say that you're interested in volunteering. You would go through an assessment process. They would determine your suitability, health and skill levels. That said, they will train you in the things you need to know, but they will assess your commitment and whether you have the time and energy to do this. If you make it through all that, they'll put you in a training program. There is further assessment through that training program. Some people don't make it through or don't enjoy it like they thought they were going to. If you make it through all that and meet the minimum requirements, they will put you on a volunteer crew.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Do you train them at that location or that station?

Mr. Strandt: There is both. I would say 90 per cent of the training we do is at the local level. As well, station members train other station members. They have years of experience, of course, and training programs they implement that we provide to those stations. That said, there are regional training programs as crews become more advanced, some skills you would like them to have if they are going to operate and be in charge of the vessel, and some skills we like them to have as they progress.

Mr. Quealey: To expand on that, and speaking from the perspective of Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue specifically in British Columbia, just to add to Randy's comments on how you become a volunteer, I would highlight that becoming a volunteer in any of our organizations is much like being a volunteer in any of the public safety service streams. It becomes a sense of commitment and vocation that you are embarking on.

Yes, we have standards, and yes, you will be assessed against those standards, and the intention is to bring people up to those standards. But because of that commitment aspect that Randy spoke of, what makes enduring volunteers is that sense of vocation and commitment to their communities, and that's how we are successful.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Do they work in the same way as volunteer firefighters? You would get a call, and then the call goes out to everybody and they come?

Mr. Quealey: An interesting piece of the volunteer approach is that we work in many ways to the effect or outcome. To clarify, for example, in British Columbia we have a requirement that all of the crews that are on standby to respond must be at what we call 30 minutes' notice to move so that from the time they are called, they can be under way with that vessel and responding to the GRCC call or tasking. How they achieve that we will leave flexible based on the community, its design, demographics and the proximity by which people live. Within the stations, the station leadership is empowered to make that design but must meet that minimum standard. The result is that the standard is achieved.

To add to your question about training, the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue is on the cusp of evolution in relation to training in that yes, we do focus on the station leadership, and that's critical for not only the training in the technical sense but building the unit cohesion and that sense of teamwork.

What's really important in that whole fabric of marine SAR is that we work closely with the Canadian Coast Guard in our training, and so joint training and an integrated approach is part of that team approach. We benefit from the courses they run, like the Rigid Hull Inflatable Operator Training, which is done in Bamfield, B.C.

The cusp I speak of is also now looking at opportunities for centralized training. We have just recently completed our regional training centre in East Sooke in British Columbia, and that will present a new opportunity, not only for RCM SAR but other partners inclusive of the marine SAR and broader community to come and train with us and learn from our expertise and share as well. There are tons of opportunities there, and that is only our regional example. There are others clearly.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Is it the community that decides they need a station and they proceed to set one up and work with everyone, or who decides there is a need?

Mr. Strandt: Now it would be the region, Coast Guard Auxiliary with Coast Guard deciding an asset is needed.

Senator Stewart Olsen: By "the region," you mean New Brunswick saying that they need a station?

Mr. Strandt: Exactly. That would likely be determined with Coast Guard, who do their own needs analysis and determine that perhaps we need more resources here and would come to us and say they would like to have another resource in this community or area. Historically it would be the reverse, the way you mentioned. Over time the communities would have said they need a resource, so let's get together and put a boat in service. In more recent times, that's more coordinated through Coast Guard and our regions, and you wouldn't be standing a station up without having Coast Guard and your regional approval.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Are there enough?

Mr. Quealey: I know my colleague Clay Evans was sitting in this chair a few weeks back, and I must say to that comment, the team approach, Coast Guard colleagues are part of that team. To Randy's point, an operational needs assessment occurs for consideration of where potential gaps are or how we might do better, and we support Coast Guard in that analysis. The unique thing about the volunteer aspect, and I think that's what you are alluding to, is we can't direct volunteers where they are going to live and what the community capacity is to support them; so we do another piece, and that's the community capability assessment and what can the community create. I don't use that as formalized term; that's just the effect we achieve. Ultimately the community gets to decide if they are going to contribute. We are very lucky in B.C. to have over 40 communities that have stepped up to that challenge and in various forms have created these stations to achieve the effect.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Thank you.

The Deputy Chair: I would like to welcome Senator Frum, who has joined us this evening.

Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation. You have mentioned something different from what we heard the last time with the Coast Guard. Correct me if I'm wrong. They said 40 minutes, but you are faster, 30 minutes, so that's good.

My main question is with regard to your presentation that says there is a lack of nationally directed SAR integration. Can you give an example of what kind of challenges you have encountered through this? Is this a cause for concern? What kind of difficulty did you have because there is less coordination?

Mr. Strandt: It's hard to pin down. If I had to give an example, the best one that comes to mind is the ground SAR teams. Why that sticks out the most is ground SARs are the responsibility of provincial authorities, usually delegated to the police of jurisdiction. We are working with a nationally mandated system, being Coast Guard and marine SAR, and working with a provincially mandated system.

These are interface calls. If a person is injured on an island or remote access and cannot get out by road, a marine asset is required. We could be better at those incidents where you need coordination of a land and marine asset and joint effort, and perhaps joint training could be better; and perhaps even an overarching national direction that that's how we're going to operate so that marine assets are to be dispatched to assist with land-based calls, whereas now our key mandate is marine-based calls and we are not really focused on the humanitarian assistance.

Mr. Quealey: This is purely my personal perspective. This is not the authority of my organization, but having had experience in this realm as well, I can help.

As Randy said, you have the three main elements of SAR — marine, air and ground. I would highlight that the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres, as they currently exist with the joint-ness being the marine and air aspects, do an extremely good job in that coordination. Equally, when we look at a provincial setup, and from the context of British Columbia, the provincial emergency management organization coordinates closely and is unified in their approach with their federal colleagues.

That point highlights that a lot of that is reliant, in terms of those jurisdictional streams, on the relationships that exist between the leadership. It is extremely effective because a colleague will know a colleague and will work toward success because we are all in it together.

When you look at it from the jurisdictional and the governance perspective, we have the national SAR secretariat and the national SAR program, but that doesn't empower that organization, which now resides in Public Safety Canada and has transitioned from National Defence, to direct the program, to standardize the levels of training necessary across the country, and to go into that more programmatic and systematic approach that may result in arguably a more effective approach nationally. That highlights a potential opportunity to improve, as we should all be looking to improve.

Senator Enverga: Looking for improvement, we were talking to the Coast Guard a couple of weeks ago, and they mentioned that there is no particular wish list they have for equipment. I know you guys have been working so hard and you have rescued thousands of people and saved a lot of lives. What kind of new equipment do you need? I know you need funding, but it could be for something else. Are there any wish lists that you would say you would want from us that could make you more effective and helpful to your friends?

Mr. Quealey: Senator, we only have an hour.

Mr. Strandt: There's a long list going through my head. We mentioned funding, for sure. Where would it be used? For sure, assets is key for us — not only acquiring assets but maintaining them. Boats are an expensive venture, if you've ever owned one, to maintain and keep running. How do you keep it sustainable? It's one thing to get it in the first place, but then sustainable funding so we can be here in 10, 15, 20 years.

We mentioned a few ways within the current mandate, if you will, but expanding that mandate, looking for other ways to utilize volunteers. Both marine volunteers and others would improve the service level and engagement, and you would find more quality people, which deals with the issue of retention and attracting people.

Part of it is awareness, both at the government and public level, of the volunteers who are out there and what they do. That feeds everything else. It feeds into recruitment, retention and perhaps getting more donations and fundraising. So the awareness piece is key for us as well.

Senator Enverga: We are talking a lot now about the Arctic. Do you have a problem with volunteers from around the Arctic and the North?

Mr. Strandt: We are expanding there right now.

Senator Enverga: Inuit?

Mr. Strandt: Yes. We're looking for places to put resources right now. I would say it's a challenge anywhere where it's remote. That can be in the Arctic or in B.C. or Newfoundland. Any time a community is small and remote, it's difficult. It's difficult because they are far away and because they don't have a lot of people. We do make it work, but the smaller the community and the more remote it is, the more difficult it is for us, for sure. There is a point where it is too small for us to support because there aren't enough people to support it. But we do make it work in many small communities throughout the Arctic and other places in Canada.

Senator Enverga: What about volunteers from our First Nations and our Inuit? Do they have difficulty, or are they accepting of the fact that you are there?

Mr. Strandt: No. I come from B.C., so my experience is there. We do have some Aboriginal communities that are fantastic, as you would have seen, and respond. They look after not only their own communities but the greater community in those areas. I can think of several who operate in B.C., but there are others on other coasts as well.

Senator Raine: Just following up perhaps on the last topic, in the North, are you working with the Rangers up there to coordinate? They are also involved in environmental monitoring and things like that.

Mr. Strandt: We haven't at this point. Certainly we do cooperate and work with them where rescues require a land- based or joint response. They are not responding for us on marine assets at this time, although I do know that as we look to expand to the Arctic, it might be one of the models we look at.

Senator Raine: Some of the Ranger stations have marine assets.

Mr. Strandt: To be fair, we're an asset and we're able to respond, as is Coast Guard. Any asset can be tasked. There are many examples where the rescue centre is not tasking a Coast Guard or auxiliary. I mentioned that we respond to 25 per cent of the calls. The Coast Guard doesn't respond to the other 75 per cent. Many times it is the vessel of opportunity who is responding. An example would be where they are a trained community asset. Certainly they can be tasked to go help, whether an auxiliary or Coast Guard asset.

Mr. Quealey: If I may add: As it relates to the Rangers specifically, the Rangers respond under the management of the Department of National Defence. Therefore, their command and control mechanisms are necessarily through DND.

To that point, and as Randy described, because the Rangers are often in small communities, generally in those small communities the responders know each other — in fact, not only do they know each other, but oftentimes it's the same person who signed up for multiple responsibilities in those organizations.

Giving you a jurisdictional perspective, the way it would be coordinated is through the Joint Task Force commander regionally, which is DND. In many cases, that person, that commander in National Defence, is also the search-and-rescue region commander, for example, in B.C. and in the Atlantic provinces. Equally, that person can then decide what assets are being employed in DND in that region.

From our perspective, we may see ourselves alongside the Rangers and working together in a joint, unified manner, but the jurisdictions are separate. But when it comes to the people in the community, they're people who know each other and who are generally used to working with each other. What is extremely successful in that model is that it's community based. Rangers are, from my perspective, a key element to that approach.

Senator Raine: My main question that I have for you is this: There have been some changes in B.C. in the Coast Guard and with the closing of Comox and Tofino. Is that working? Is it not working? Obviously, if a person is calling for help, first you need the ears, someone to hear their cries for help. With the mountainous terrain and inconsistent radio frequencies perhaps, there can be problems. In your experience, has the change in the system in coastal British Columbia been effective? Is it causing any problems? Will it work? How far along are we in the transition? With the reopening of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, which of course is in the urban area, will that help? Can you give just a little overview, from your perspective as volunteers, on how that is going?

Mr. Quealey: Thank you, senator. I would go back to that sense of partnership, is really how I would put a theme to the response. Clearly, the Coast Guard does its own assessment of operational needs and the equipment and technology that is necessary to achieve that. I'm not expert to suggest there is a better way of doing it. I think you are referring to MCTS, for example.

In terms of what we've seen operationally and the impact to us in providing that service to Coast Guard and supporting their mandate, I can't say that I have seen any diminishment, but that is not with any personal assessment.

What I can comment on is that in every one of our communities or our stations that interact with Coast Guard, the perspective of the leadership of our organization, and necessarily the perspective of the leadership at the station level, is that we are working in cooperation and in a unified way with Coast Guard. These are our partners. Clearly, if Coast Guard gets additional assets and they're applied to marine SAR, we are grateful, because for the people of Canada and British Columbia, that is potential for additional support. We would welcome any additional assets in that regard of whatever nature you assess to be worthy.

In that sense, I want to highlight as well that our relationship is a non-competitive one. We are there to support their mandate. One of the strengths of the volunteer organization is that we have flexibility to support them in whatever gaps or additional needs they identify.

Senator Raine: When you mentioned the need to continually fundraise for building up the assets of your teams, are there things coming down the pike in terms of technology that you wish you had but just cannot afford? For instance, I know when you get a set of radios, all of a sudden better radios come along. It's not just buying one radio; it's buying a whole bunch of radios. Are those kinds of things always challenging?

Mr. Quealey: Absolutely. To the senator's question about the wish list, I didn't chime in, but I would echo what Randy said in terms of funding. We have been very successful in developing our vessels and our fleet in British Columbia, but it needs to be known that has been done on the backs of volunteers who are taking out their own time to manage that fleet. I rely on three people in our organization who are volunteers, who manage our fleet development, who contribute to the quality assurance when the vessels are being built and who are directly involved in implementation. Hats off to them. These are the people who are making it successful in British Columbia, for example.

If you were to ask about down-the-pike activities and the complexities of this equipment, this is top-notch stuff. Certainly we would welcome any opportunity to have additional funding, clearly, which would allow us to expand our approach in terms of a more systematic approach and greater depth in terms of the people able to support acquisitions such as that equipment.

Randy described the limitation in terms of the funding models. The contribution agreement we have with the Coast Guard right now restricts us from using those funds for capital assets. Again, we are reliant on a system of gaming grants and the fund-raising of our specific stations, and that is a rather tenuous approach.

Senator Raine: Do you know how it works in Europe and countries where they rely on a voluntary SAR system?

Mr. Strandt: There are various models. In the U.K., for example, it's probably one of the biggest charities. Tens of millions of pounds are raised every year — a well-recognized charity in the U.K. Other places use membership models where they charge membership fees and raise money that way. In every case, it is a charitable raising of funds or service provision. As a membership model, they provide a service for the membership and are very successful. Different models are employed depending on where you go, but they are very successful in raising funds, for sure. Part of their success is not only their rescue success, but also their fundraising is world class as well.

Senator Raine: This is a whole other subject. All on our committee are pretty familiar with it. Can you comment on the interface between your organization and the lighthouses and their keepers? We understand that the boats they used to have for rescue at light stations are no longer there. Is that impacting the opportunity for quick response?

Mr. Strandt: That would be more difficult for me to respond to. In my experience, I haven't had that encounter. Even at the regional level, I don't think we've encountered that being an issue for us. You are probably asking the wrong people for feedback on that.

Senator Raine: There is no case where a light station is the SAR station?

Mr. Strandt: Not that I'm aware of.

Senator Raine: Do you think that's a possibility? Those light stations are valuable assets and are always located in areas where traditionally people got into trouble on the ocean. It would seem a natural fit to work together.

Mr. Quealey: To your original question, I'm not aware either. I'm aware of Coast Guard building flexibility in that their assets can have secondary roles as well. All of us, as you know from the Law of the Sea, have a secondary role to respond. Were there to be a lighthouse or light station that has a capacity to do anything at sea, it wouldn't necessarily be a secondary role. To your question, I'm not aware of any impacts in that regard.

Mr. Strandt: One challenge I would add is that we don't send a crew out with fewer than two people. We prefer more than two but certainly at least two on the vessel.

Senator McInnis: This has been interesting. Of course, as Senator Enverga mentioned, the purpose of this study is to investigate how the services might be improved and some of the challenges you may have. Of course, for many of us, it's a learning experience as well, and I put myself in that category.

An interesting study done by Fisheries and Oceans calculated that every dollar invested in volunteers for marine search and rescue gave a return to the department and the Canadian public of $37. A challenge of money shouldn't be quite so difficult.

I want to ask: What would your budget look like? Where are your expenses? I take it the maintenance of vessels is an expense, as is the fuel.

Mr. Strandt: Of the $5.2 million we receive across the country, which are rough numbers, a good third would go to administration of the organization — actual staff — and Mr. Quealey is an example. Another third would go to operations, essentially funding the station, giving them a stipend for training and every time they go on a call. All the maintenance is looked after by them. They use those funds we give them to maintain the vessel, and they have to raise their own money to supplement that. One third would go to operational, beyond actual tasking an incident. A third for training; a third for operation; and a third for administration.

The money is disbursed to either the private owner of the vessel or the community station responsible for maintaining the vessel and paying for fuel, et cetera. None of the funds received would go directly to fixing a vessel, as you say, or to paying for the fuel. That would be paid down to someone else who would look after paying the bills.

Senator McInnis: Who owns the vessel?

Mr. Strandt: The vessels would be owned by either the community or a private individual.

Senator McInnis: They volunteer their vessels.

Mr. Strandt: Yes.

Senator McInnis: Amazing. And how many are there?

Mr. Strandt: About 4,000.

Mr. Quealey: In British Columbia, the model is a little different because of the gaming grant situation. The boats are owned by the societies. Just to be clear about the relationship, in our communities, we have the stations that are the operational arm of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue. They are supported by societies that are members of RCM SAR, who support behind the scenes by fund raising and application for grants, for example. Their efforts are part of the partnership that's critical to developing and getting the monies for the boats. As I mentioned, only a portion can be covered by the gaming grants.

From our perspective in terms of answering the question of where the money goes, in our region, we receive roughly $1.3 million a year from Coast Guard in our contribution agreement, which goes to a number of different activities, and our books are all available on line for further scrutiny. That goes to administration, direct support to search and rescue operations, training and on-the-water incident response. Some limited funds are also available for search and rescue awareness and boating safety. For example, they tie directly to community engagement events where we raise awareness about the necessary safety on the water and how to prevent SAR incidents altogether by people taking prudent action.

The next element is the gaming grants I described. This year, we were fortunate to receive from the Province of B.C. $3 million, which supported the evolution of our fleet. In addition, gaming grants allow for operational support as well. The headquarters of Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue is supported through gaming grants.

The third element to our funding is the general funding that comes through donations from people who look at our website and see that this is a worthwhile charity, non-profit, it saves lives, and they contribute that way directly. That element can fluctuate depending on the ability of people and organizations to fund us.

Senator McInnis: Let me turn to another area. I'm trying to determine when you are triggered into action. Say someone is in distress. Does the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre determine if you go or if the Canadian Coast Guard goes? Who makes that determination?

Mr. Strandt: The controller at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre determines that. The marine controller, who is a Coast Guard employee, would decide the most appropriate asset or multiple assets. In many cases, more than one vessel is sent, depending on the scenario. They would be the person responsible for determining the appropriate response.

Senator McInnis: In my hometown, there is a search and rescue system. They have a boat, but would not be tied in with you. They're a volunteer outfit.

Mr. Strandt: One area we don't cover to any great extent is inland waters. We talked earlier about restrictions. We are restricted to coastal waters, or navigable waters, I believe Coast Guard calls them. Our funding is limited to that. We can't be on lakes, unless it is one of the Great Lakes, or rivers or other bodies of water that might be dangerous, as certainly people are being harmed and having accidents there. The only example we have is one station in B.C. on a lake, but it's a limited example. It's a challenge for us to keep it funded and insured under the contribution agreement. These ground SAR teams or land-based teams are responsible for those lakes, and that's why they typically have vessels. They may go on salt water as well, but they wouldn't come under us. Certainly Coast Guard could task them, or the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre could task them, but again tasking them as a vessel of opportunity that they happen to know about or are aware of, but they wouldn't be part of the program per se.

Senator McInnis: But they would be in the harbours. About 75 per cent of your volunteers are fishers.

Mr. Strandt: Depending on where you are, yes. Certainly in the Maritimes and Newfoundland, it is closer to 95 per cent. On the West Coast, it would be less than 5 per cent. It varies depending on where you are in the country. If you look at it across the country, it is perhaps 50/50.

Senator McInnis: That is very good. Thank you.

The Deputy Chair: Mr. Strandt and Mr. Quealey, on behalf of the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, thank you for sharing with us the important work of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Mr. Strandt: Thank you for having us.

The Deputy Chair: The committee is continuing its study on Maritime Search and Rescue activities, including current challenges and opportunities. We are now pleased to welcome, from Cougar Helicopters Inc., Hank Williams, Chief Operating Officer; Rick Banks, Search & Rescue Program Manager; and Steve Reid, Search & Rescue Capability Advisor.

On behalf of the members of the committee, I thank you for being here today. I understand that you have opening remarks. Therefore, in the interest of allowing as much discussion as possible in the time available to us, you are requested to please limit your opening statements to possibly 12 minutes. Thank you.

Hank Williams, Chief Operating Officer, Cougar Helicopters Inc.: That's not a problem. Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, everyone, for the opportunity to speak to you on an important matter to us and to all Canadians: search and rescue. I would like to start with my compliments to previous presenters, the auxiliary and the hundreds of volunteers. All Canadians are proud of that for sure.

Headquarters for Cougar Helicopters is located in St. John's, Newfoundland. We have been in the search and rescue business for over 20 years. I have been employed by Cougar Helicopters for 20 years — a long time. Before my time, Cougar Helicopters was involved with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, DFO, out of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, doing surveillance as well as some ad hoc search and rescue work.

I guess our big dive into search and rescue happened in 1997 when we were awarded, by the oil and gas company ExxonMobil, provision for passenger services to the oil rigs offshore in Newfoundland. A condition of that contract was that we also had to be first responders in the oil field area — at that time, 103, located in Gander, using the Labrador aircraft. It was a requirement that we needed something local and quick as a first response to the oil and gas industry. We currently operate 11 aircraft on the East Coast of Canada. Two of those are in Nova Scotia and the remainder on our base in St. John's.

Our search and rescue capabilities have evolved over the last 20 years that I have been involved. At one time I used to refer to it as passive SAR, but since 2010, with our big movement when we went into an enhanced first response mode, we have had dedicated air frames, dedicated search and rescue specialists and dedicated training hours.

Of course, one of the things about operating in the environment we do, your capabilities are very much contingent on the type of equipment you fly. We are not in sunny Miami; we are on the East Coast of Canada.

Our main platform aircraft is the Sikorsky S-92 that we operate as our fleet. It is an all-weather aircraft, four access, auto pilot, dual hoists, night vision and forward looking infrared systems. We now have a full level D simulator based in St. John's, Newfoundland, where we can do a lot of our training, and we have a lot of RCAF air crew experience that came out of the air force and into the civilian world. Not only do we have a lot of rescue technicians, but also flight crews, as well as some flight engineers that came from previous military experience.

We run a 24/7 operational control centre that runs all of our flight activity — our dispatch centre. When I say type D dispatch or co-authority dispatch, it pretty well aligns with how the fixed wing operation work where a pilot and a dispatcher will put together a flight plan and with co-authority they both agree on that flight plan before it launches.

Before I go on any more about Cougar, I would like to speak about the two gentlemen with me. I consider them subject matter experts in what Cougar does. Rick has been working with me for quite some time, and I have never met two gentlemen who are more passionate about SAR and saving lives. Every time I talk to them, it's all about the way we can do it better and the way we can enhance to all Canadians the way we perform search and rescue.

For your understanding, Cougar's involvement in search and rescue today is 100 per cent mandated and contracted by the oil and gas industries that we have contracts with for the provision of search and rescue to their assets and people in the field. That presents a bit of a challenge to us. We work closely with JRCC, specifically in Halifax, Nova Scotia, almost to the point where we have daily contact. We make sure they are aware of our assets and what our capability is and, in turn, they do the same. If they have a mission to launch to some other part of the province or the territory, they check to see where our assets are so they can understand what they have in the event of an emergency.

The challenge for us is that, as I said earlier, our assets are 100 per cent contracted to the oil and gas company. In order to conduct a civilian or a tasking from JRCC, I must get release of those assets from the oil companies. The challenge is not only from a contract but right within and how do you say no? We've done a fair amount of missions over the years I've been there, and we've never said no, but these assets are not always available.

The oil and gas industry consider that any time their dedicated search and rescue is not available — if we take them and move our assets to some other part of the region — it is a massive exposure to their personnel, people and assets offshore. So that presents a bit of a challenge to us.

We have a vision of what we like to do. When we say we're 24/7 capable, we operate a 20-minute response time 365 days a year. Our infrastructure that we have located in St. John's, Newfoundland is built around a fire hall concept. Our search and rescue technicians, our engineers and our flight crews sleep there to get that 20-minute response time.

We have a vision to become federally recognized and an aeronautical SAR service provider, where value-added services and capabilities complement — which is the key word I want to emphasize — the national SAR objective and program today.

Both Steve and Rick are familiar with this: If we look at where the national program assets are located, the exposure up North is high. I've done a lot of talking to people up in places like Iqaluit, with the Northwest Passage opening up and cruise ships going up there. We consider that it needs a remodeling somehow to provide that type of service.

I will not take any more time telling you who we are and what we are. Our capabilities today are quite strong. I would like to offer both Steve and Rick a couple of words on anything that they want to emphasize.

Rick Banks, Search & Rescue Program Manager, Cougar Helicopters Inc.: Thank you for inviting us, senators.

I want to mention a bit of past history. There is a lot of depth in our company when it comes to search and rescue, from three continents. I think we would agree to that. It is not just Canada. We have a lot of skill sets involved and enhanced capabilities that have formalized over the last few years.

Looking at the regions where we have worked, we are not primarily just East Coast. We have been to Barrow, Alaska. We were integral in setting up SAR for our customers up on the north slope of Alaska. We have had contracts in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories; Inuvik, Northwest Territories; two bases in Ilulissat and Nuuk, Greenland; the Gulf of Mexico, down in Galliano, Louisiana for a number of years.

Just to show a little more depth, not only is it oil and gas when we get to those places, we're so remote that the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres know our capability, they know our response levels and they know we're up there and we're a presence. As a tangible, taskable asset, numerous times in all of those locations we've been tasked to civil SAR. That includes humanitarian aid, whether it's a lost hiker, a tourist who has suffered a heart attack way out in the tundra and vessels we've taken people off for medical aid or injury. There are a number of realms. Once we are in those locations, it's amazing how we become another side of the house.

Again, Hank mentioned we have a bit of a struggle because we do have a contract in place and we're working for a company. As much as we would like to do it and are proud to do it and the guys will jump at it, it is a bit of a struggle going forward. Our desire is to be recognized as a federal GSAR provider, and that is definitely in our future. We have the capability and professionalism.

In my case, I'm a 20-year veteran as a search and rescue technician with the RCAF, and there are a number of guys from that group. About 85 per cent of our staffing right now is ex-military RCAF SAR from a select group that we have hand selected who were leaving the military. We have been fortunate there. It's not that we go after them. We know they're leaving, so I think it's a great transition for people.

We have the underlying desire and love of the Canadian North that we are specialists in setting up in, and we've been very fortunate to be involved in providing whatever capability we can to those people up there because of the vastness of it, you could say, not only in the marine environment but on the land environment as well.

I thank you all for inviting us today.

Steve Reid, Search & Rescue Capability Advisor, Cougar Helicopters Inc.: Thank you as well for the opportunity to be here. I am pleased to be supporting Cougar Helicopters as well. I want to be a bit clearer on my role in this.

I consider myself a team member of Cougar Helicopters, but I'm not an employee. I have been working with Cougar for the past few months to help identify exactly the purpose of this committee's intent, which is to identify potential opportunities to help improve and achieve the national objective in search and rescue. Cougar has asked me, with my background as an RCAF helicopter pilot, an officer with 20 years' service and commanding officer of one of our primary search and rescue squadrons, to lend some of my experience and to help articulate some of the challenges that currently exist and how there may be opportunity to solve some problems in a cordial, compatible, organized and efficient way.

We can all appreciate that Canada probably has the majority of the challenges in the world when it comes to providing search and rescue services. Our area of responsibility is huge. The sentiments of our previous presenters rang true for me. They articulated very well the need to adopt a team approach. Partnerships are important, and we need to look to each other to add value and take advantage of opportunities to provide the service that I think all Canadians want and deserve. That only happens through working together, partnerships, training and developing that relationship so that people know that when they make that call for help, the right type of resource is on the way and will pluck them out of peril. They don't care if it's yellow, blue or white, on water or if it is a volunteer or professional. All they know is, "Right now, I need help."

In my 10 years as CO 103 Squadron in a past life, I worked alongside Cougar to keep that relationship strong. All the while, they plucked valuable people from me and challenged me to deliver on my mandate, and that certainly is one of the challenges of Canada's search and rescue system, particularly on the aeronautical side. We are here to talk maritime SAR, but it is important that we look at all three components of SAR as one because they all are integrated and they do need an integrated approach.

When it comes to performance measurement and seeing what types of values and returns on investment we are getting from our search and rescue system — is it effective, and is it where it needs to be — it's very difficult to do that without a mechanism or overarching body that would set national policy and drive toward national objectives.

It is important to reiterate that we have aviation, maritime and inland SAR components. If we go back in history and talk about where SAR began, in the post-World War II 1940s, the international community recognized that, globally, we needed to do a good job of dealing with the emerging trends in aviation and decide who would send the search party for the people in federal waters, the oceans and, for us, the Great Lakes' navigable waters. At that time, the government agreed that is a federal responsibility, but they also said that anything that doesn't involve an aircraft in distress or a distress on federal waters will be left to the provinces and territories to handle.

Fast forward 50 years, and the evolution of capability has probably exceeded what the original intent of that looked like back then, in particular with regard to helicopters. Now, it is more about rescue than about search. That is what the emphasis is on. When you have companies like Cougar Helicopters that can offer those types of capabilities, that's an important opportunity to take advantage of.

Their challenge is that, up until this point, there has only been one federally recognized aeronautical SAR provider responsible for both aviation and maritime, and that is the air force. In more than 70 years, the air force has generated a standard of how you do that safely, because it can be dangerous. I have gone through a terrible experience related to that and lost some friends in an aviation accident which really emphasized the importance of making sure that we have capable and properly-trained and equipped people ready to respond to the needs of Canadians.

The air force has done a very good job of that, but maybe the demand now exceeds the capacity and we need to look for other ways to take advantage of opportunities, but in a way that makes sense. We can't expect to have a rotary wing rescue asset in every town or, perhaps, even in every province — they are expensive to operate — but we can do it in a smart and logical way that would make sense for Canadians.

This is how I am here to offer help. I am thankful for the opportunity to lend any advice or information that I can.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much. Our first questioner is Senator Stewart Olsen.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here and thank you for your presentations. Who would call you in the event of an emergency?

Mr. Williams: The JRCC. When we say we are first response, we know where all the assets are for the oil companies, whether it's a supply vessel, a helicopter or whatnot. Our dispatch centre would know that immediately, but it is a simultaneously launched exercise.

Senator Stewart Olsen: So they would know they didn't have an asset available, and they would call you?

Mr. Williams: Yes.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Are you paid for those missions you would undertake for them?

Mr. Williams: We have not charged to date.

Senator Stewart Olsen: How do you do your training for your people on board? I assume you have a chopper pilot and perhaps a copilot. How many team management members are there?

Mr. Banks: Our crew composite mirrors the military right now. We have two pilots — a captain and a copilot — a hoist operator and two rescue men. Given the great distances we go, we would never go with two in the back because there needs to be that backup if one guy gets in trouble.

Again, the systems we have in place somewhat mirror the standards of the military. As best we can, we try to align ourselves with that standard because it is very well-proven. We have a lot of in-depth systems and layers to our training. We are afforded 60 hours a month for training. Our day shift would routinely be airborne for about an hour and a half a day in training, be it ocean work, vessel work or open ocean water work. The guys in the water working with rafts could be inland on freshwater lakes or in the bush doing an assortment of let-downs and confined area landings and that kind of thing. There is a great variance of what we need to be on top of. Even though marine work is our bread and butter under contract, we do derivatives outside of that to keep our skills honed in every area and facet.

Routinely, the day and night shifts would each get an hour and a half, so we're up on MVGs, and those crews would transition from day to night during their shifts. There is a 12 hour daytime shift followed by a night 12-hour shift. As I said, it is like a firehall program.

We say we have a 20-minute launch window or mandate where we are routinely airborne in 11 minutes. We have worked that down and mitigated it through in-depth safety management systems and risk assessments, and we purposely built a hangar in 2012 for the transition and flow of getting a response with guys located either in the gym or in the medical section.

We are competent in advanced medical skills under the licence of a practicing physician. We are doing a lot of advanced skills that your normal paramedic wouldn't see. We are into the IVs and narcotics for pain relief. We have 100 per cent airways and the ability to do chest decompressions and a whole slew of other emergency tactics that we need. By the time we get to somebody, it is not within the golden hour. We need to be able to grab someone when they are at their worst and bring them back, so we need those advanced-level skills to deal with the trauma that we could see.

Again, our pilots, from the back-end point to the front, have in-depth training systems as well. We have a cadre of training pilots. They are in the simulator doing their own training on the ground, in the air, then on SAR again. It is quite a bit more intensive than someone would think. It's a lot more pronounced than an offshore pilot with passenger movements. There are more criteria to pass through to be one of these selected gentlemen.

Senator Stewart Olsen: When you are in the air, are you in constant communication with HQ or whoever sent you out? How does that happen?

Mr. Williams: As I mentioned, we have a 24-7 operational centre and dispatch and flight-following system. Our aircraft is monitored in every phase of flight from our dispatch centre and satellite communications from our aircraft to our dispatcher. If there was an emergency on our flight activity or a vessel, the dispatcher would activate the emergency.

Senator Stewart Olsen: I'm sorry to take extra time. So if you are in the air and you've rescued someone, who do you contact? Do you contact your dispatcher or do you contact directly?

Mr. Williams: Once we were tasked by JRCC for a civil rescue, exactly. Our dispatcher would be communicating with JRCC. What would happen in a realistic mission is that both of us could be there. We could be there as the first responder, and then — of course Steve would know more about this — there's aircraft communication but back to the each other's dispatch centre.

Mr. Reid: There's no real difference between a Cougar response in terms of communication and coordination. When the federal system requests support, it's aligned in terms of effectiveness. There really is no difference.

Senator Stewart Olsen: So it is fairly seamless.

Mr. Reid: Yes.

Mr. Banks: To add one more thing, to get that seamless approach as well, we do an annual exercise with our military counterparts, the RCAF. When they are in St. John's on their exercise for a week, we spend the greater part of two days with them. We invite JRCC down. We do a couple of simulations, and the exercises are a night and day exercise, both marine oriented. So night boat hoisting on a vessel that we contract, we will launch in different time frames with the separation to pretend they are coming down from Gander, and then they'll come into play. So we will get that communication bridge going for the on-scene commander so that there's no mistake and when it does happen in real life, everybody knows how to play it.

Senator Poirier: I have a couple of questions. One is a follow up to what my colleague here asked. From my understanding, you are not a non-profit organization. You are a company, right?

Mr. Williams: Correct.

Senator Poirier: And you have a contract with the offshore oil and gas industry to do your work.

Mr. Williams: Correct.

Senator Poirier: She questioned when you get a call from the JRCC to come in and help, you are doing that for free? Right?

Mr. Williams: Okay. Most of the missions or anything we have been a part of has been in our field of activity. I mentioned the word "exposure" before. So if we were tasked for that fisherman that's 30 miles outside of St. John's, we are still not exposing our offshore workforce. We can still respond to them as well. An asset could be directed either way.

The challenge for us is when we are tasked for an exercise that takes us outside of our region. Then the aircraft has to be really taken off contract with the oil companies because it is not available to them any longer to provide the service.

That is a very complicated piece of activity that goes on behind the scenes. The flight crew and the engineers who are preparing for that don't see — it's like the duck in the water. Nobody sees the legs going beneath that make that duck move, but the duck just sails along nicely.

Most of our missions over the years have been within our local region, and we have no issues if we are going out on a search in our area of training that we do in those areas. There's only been a couple of times that we have been taken outside of our region to do that, and to date we have not charged for that.

Senator Poirier: Your finances or funding as a company comes from your contracts with the oil and gas industry?

Mr. Williams: Yeah. If I can throw a bouquet, our oil and gas clients that we work for pay a significant amount of money to have those assets and the people and everything there, and they encourage us to work within certain parameters with the air force. Because as I said, how do you say no? You don't. So you have to come up with some framework.

I guess the challenge for me as the COO is that we have a very informal way of conducting this, and we want to formalize it so that we know exactly what we are doing and what our limitations are.

I mentioned we have the capabilities and all this, but you have to have an asset that you can take and put those pilots and engineers in and go. I don't always have that asset because it's over here and doing its mandated and contractual job that it has been contracted and paid for.

Senator Poirier: As a company, you also mentioned that you have operations in other countries or other parts of the country. The operations that you have there or the work you're doing, is that through the oil and gas industry also?

Mr. Williams: Yes, that's correct.

Senator Poirier: In doing the type of work you are doing for the offshore oil and gas industry, does it require specific equipment compared to other maritime operations? Is there a different type of equipment that you need?

Mr. Williams: Typically, when a request for proposal comes out for an operation in Greenland, for example, the oil companies must specify the level of search and rescue they require. There are various degrees of capabilities. We would refer to it as LimSAR or limited capabilities, a hoist on an aircraft. What we're contracted for on the East Coast of Canada right now is what we call full blown SAR: FLIR, night vision, the training and everything else.

A typical contract in the scope of work will outline the degree of search and rescue that they need. For example, some operators might say, "I just require day VFR — visual flight rules — operation." We would not institute an NVG program. Our level of service in the region is dictated by the contract and the contract requirements.

Senator Poirier: Thank you.

Senator McInnis: Thank you, gentlemen. Is there a larger role that you could see Cougar playing in getting involved in search and rescue?

Mr. Williams: Yes. I can speak as a Canadian citizen or speak as Cougar, but I think both of these gentlemen spoke about it. These people have had experiences in the Arctic, going in there for a rescue when you were based in Newfoundland and various places. There is a model that needs to be developed that provides some resources to that region, and Cougar would like to be a part of that model.

In my opening I said to complement what the Canadian air force has now, because I admire everything they do, but we mentioned about the region they have to cover. We envision there is a model out there somewhere where we can complement and work together.

You referred to training programs, standards, training of personnel. We have a great training program. We also have an S-92 simulator now right in our backyard in Newfoundland. Who would ever have thought we would get one of those there? Well, we have. The training capabilities that are available to us, if we work closely together — when I say resources, it's equipment; it's people.

I think you used the words that a couple of your guys came our way, but we were very cautious that we did not deplete specifically the 103 rescue centre in Gander because they provide service to us as well. We were very cautious when we brought people back.

I think there is an area of collaboration and a model that we plug in in certain regions where we can complement each other.

Senator McInnis: And perhaps take over part of what is being done now by the military.

Mr. Reid: We have developed a strategy that would make sense as a complementary solution, considering a subcontracted role to the air force that would add a capability, add value. Because Canada is so vast, if you don't have a sustainability model that supports a resource once it's tasked to the end of its mission and then regenerates itself, it will not work. Canada is too big for that. It's about adding certain pieces of the puzzle, adding more pieces of the puzzle. It's cheaper to add a piece than it is to separate it completely and then expect that one entity to deliver that service. There is opportunity there, and we are hoping to open that discussion with the air force.

Mr. Williams: One of the things I think it was Steve mentioned is you look at a jurisdiction like Nunavut with a federal responsibility and a territorial responsibility, and somehow they have to collaborate together and share that resource or the capabilities you would put in that type of region. It has to be the land, the marine, the aeronautical. It wouldn't make sense to go down separate roads because you can it as one.

Senator McInnis: The military is doing it now, correct?

Mr. Reid: No, the military is not doing territorial or provincial SAR. That is a gap that exists. Every province is different. Some provinces have more capability than others to respond to their needs for inland SAR with an aeronautical response, but the challenges can be extraordinary. Newfoundland, the North and British Columbia have extreme challenges, and, unfortunately, it is those worst case scenarios when the alignment isn't there or the capability isn't adequate to respond to that need. Then the request for federal assistance can be enacted, and an RCAF resource can be requested through the JRCC. But up until that point, the province or the territory is expected to deliver upon their own needs, their own aeronautical SAR system. The problem is that there is no civilian SAR standard for which a Cougar helicopter organization can generate that type of a capability because the standard for how you provide and how you train and how you build exists in the air force.

For a territorial government, for example, to say, "We would like to have an aeronautical SAR response capability in one of our locations in the North to respond to our inland SAR demands," and for them to come and approach a Cougar helicopter to say, "We would like to contract you to deliver upon our own responsibility to offer that service," that would be viewed as a welcome capability enhancement. Then the air force could say, "Since you are there, on an opportunity basis, we will tap into that as well."

The reality is that there are three types of SAR demands that could be called upon to use that resource, whether it's an aircraft incident or a maritime incident or an inland SAR incident. It doesn't really make sense to contract one resource for one component of it. You would think it should be there for all three because that's where you get your maximum efficiency and your maximum bang for your buck.

From a coordination perspective, the organization that has all the expertise in this country for aeronautical SAR coordination is the air force, and they do it well, very well. The fact that there is one phone number that you can call to get a dedicated aeronautical SAR response and that it's either Halifax, Trenton or Victoria, works extremely well. There is no reason there cannot be a value-added capability in other places that works the same way. It is just a civilian entity, and Canada's SAR system has very much capitalized on civilian partnerships. The only organization in the Canadian SAR system that is not civilian is the air force.

Senator McInnis: Value added how?

Mr. Reid: Value added by adding a capability in a place where, currently, there is no coverage, but treat it in the same way. If an incident occurs, you are going to tap into that resource as if it's the same type of air force squadron that exists there. It has the same people; it has the same types of capabilities. It's just the matter of the communication and the alignment.

Senator McInnis: Under control of the air force, right?

Mr. Reid: Yes, the coordination doesn't change, and it shouldn't change. The air force also has, strategically, a fantastic system for coordinating and driving and surging when necessary. They have an abundance of resources that they can call to bear if something catastrophic does occur. When one resource isn't available, they can tap into something else. Even if it does fall outside of a primary SAR mandate, they have airlift. They have helicopters, and they tap into the navy as well. From a coordination perspective, that part works fabulously.

Senator McInnis: So you are already moving in that direction?

Mr. Williams: That's what we'd like to do.

Mr. Reid: We have requested support from the air force to consider that and open the dialogue and look at maybe outside-of-the-box ways to add to, not take away from or threaten, existing systems, add value to it.

Mr. Banks: You have to understand that we come from this world, and we've seen it many times. Steve and I both lived up in the North doing these missions. Just the remoteness and some of the risk that we saw putting in our parajumpers far up North, 27 hours before a helicopter can get to them, puts them in peril as well, not just the victims. Staging a couple of these remote areas, reducing significantly the response and providing to the people in the North and not risking sending all the assets North that need to remain in the South to carry on with their mandate. There are lots of ideas there.

Senator McInnis: The North is certainly an issue that has been raised here a couple of times.

Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation. You were here when I was asking the previous witnesses what their wish list was, and I was hoping they would say Cougar.

My question is: In case the idea came up that we could integrate Cougar within the SAR system, what kind of dollar value are we looking for? Would it be as cost effective or more cost effective than what we have now, like the air force? Would it be cheaper to operate that?

Mr. Williams: It is expanding on what is already there. We are not saying take away anything that currently exists. It is expanding on that. Yes, there is a dollar value attached to that. We spoke about the S-92 platform. As Cougar, I think what we can leverage is part of our offshore oil and gas clients for passenger movement. We have 11 aircraft on the East Coast of Canada. We have about $30 million worth of spares that support those 11 aircraft. If we were placing one or two aircraft in strategic positions, it could be supported by the infrastructure that we already have in place. You are not building a full infrastructure to support that one base — our dispatch centre, our maintenance teams, our training programs and the availability of spares.

There is one thing I would like to add: Our search and rescue program that we currently provide for oil and gas has some magnificent reliability stats, and it's because we are not bringing in parts or anything to support one or two aircraft. We're bringing in parts to support 11, 12, all in one consolidated area. Our up-tonne of aircraft we refer to is magnificent.

Senator Enverga: I know that your rescue time is faster by 10 minutes, from 30 to 20. Do you think you can maintain this 20-minute response time all over Canada's coast?

Mr. Williams: Rick mentioned something key about how we did little things. We built a hangar that was 18 feet deeper so that we could specifically have a tug hooked up to it 24/7 so that we didn't lose two minutes hooking up a tug to tow an aircraft out. You need a fit-for-purpose facility to get to 20 minutes. Wouldn't you agree, Rick?

Mr. Banks: It has to be risk-assessed. There have to be management-of-change processes. You do it in such a way that you are sure. We went from an hour to 45 to 30 and then to 20, and I think that is the cutoff. Even though we are doing it sometimes or most of the time quicker than that, you have to put a number on it and say, "This is the safe zone, and we won't accept anything less." However, I think that, in this day and age, our teams have proven that it's effective, that it's safe and that there is no risk, and it's the way we have rolled it out. We could do that in any strategic location.

Mr. Williams: The biggest key, where we went from one hour to 30 to 20 minutes, is the crews residing on site. It has to be the firehall concept to get 20 minutes. You could waste 20 minutes just getting out of bed. The 20 minutes has a bunch of things involved, but, to me, if you are going to start at a baseline, you have to have fit-for-purpose facilities where the crew is on site. The combination is on site.

Senator Enverga: You mentioned that you have some equipment there already, but then how would you compare yourself with the air force? What do you have that they don't? Are you better equipped than the air force?

Mr. Reid: The reason I want to take that one is because, three month ago, they asked me to come in and give them some advice, and they asked that question: Why are we different? How are we different? What challenges would we face? Why can we not gain traction as a comparable or reputable or viable option to add value to this SAR system?

I turned them down at first because I didn't want to be the guy to expose a difference between this organization and an air force organization. I pretty much know the differences. I spent a lot of time in the air force. I also was the author of the 30-minute Continuous Readiness Posture Force Generation Analysis when I was in the Canadian Forces as a SAR policy advisor here at NDHQ. I have really dug into the requirements that make an aeronautical SAR capability sustainable. I went back to them afterwards and I said, "I'm going to do it and provide that advice because I think this is a really great opportunity here, but you need to know what the differences are so you can recognize them, maybe make some adjustments and identify exactly what would be required for you to deliver the same type and level of service that is expected and that the air force delivers." That's what we went back and forth on for the last three months.

There are some challenges, but some of the biggest challenges are, first, that there are no civilian SAR standards to allow them to generate and build that capability on their own. Whether they like it or not, the air force is linked to civilian SAR for the foreseeable future, and they have no choice but to pull people from that organization to share their experience because there is no such thing as a SAR licence in Canada. There is an air transport pilot licence and various categories for delivering civilian aeronautical services, but there is no recognized licence for delivering SAR capability on the civilian side. That's a big challenge.

The other big challenge in Canada is that when a SAR asset launches and goes on a task, it could fly for 1,000 miles before getting on scene. Over a course of 1,000 miles, there are a lot of challenges with making sure that the capability is sustainable in the 24-hour period. For example, there can be a crew exchange if the aircraft breaks on the road? Can we get parts and people to it to keep the system alive? That's what the air force has in spades. It has the ability to support, not just with one resource but with a team of resources. Whether it's two aircraft or a Coast Guard vessel or auxiliary, the team works together to deliver the effect needed.

For Cougar to offer an opportunity to enhance maritime SAR or aeronautical SAR or GSAR, it doesn't make sense to do it on their own because they cannot do it on their own. They need to work together. It will not work if they can't. However, there is a slight difference. I'll use one example. With their rescue specialists who use the hoist to lower SAR techs down on the cable, in the air force that person is also a recognized aerospace maintenance or flight engineer. So when the aircraft lands away from home base, he can do the aircraft turnaround and he can recertify it so the next day it can take off again and fly home. In the civilian SAR world, that one person is used only as a hoist operator, so if that aircraft goes away from its main operating base, there is no one to certify it for its next day's use. Now you have to fly someone else in to turn that aircraft around, and that is extremely cost inefficient.

There are differences, and we've gone through a process of identifying the differences, how they can be addressed and what opportunities might be possible to make this something that actually does work, because I think the possibility is endless. I think that there are a lot of other people that think that, too.

Mr. Williams: The differences can be easily overcome with the partnership. We can both become a part of that model that works.

I agree with what Steve is saying, but when we looked at the differences and some of the challenges that we have, doing it alone presents big challenges, but doing it in partnership with the air force today and what is already in place with us becoming part of it to augment what they have is definitely the future.

Senator Enverga: Basically, you are already there and in place, so the air force doesn't have to do much regarding being in place in the area. That could be the value. Also, it would be cheaper to have you than for them to create another agency.

Mr. Williams: To save their own assets, yes.

Mr. Reid: For the air force to generate a new squadron somewhere in the North, for example, the logistics and challenges would be extraordinary. Cougar offers fly in/fly out capability where if you put a piece of infrastructure in a location, you can have your people and assets there very quickly. You will probably have a lot of RCAF experience occupy those cockpits and "back enders" as well. You will get a return on previous investment that the air force has already made in those people who have perhaps moved on to something else.

There is value in recuperating and value in efficiency and generating a new capability, and there is a lot of opportunity there.

Senator Enverga: You will be able to employ retired air force personnel, is that how it works?

Mr. Reid: That certainly would be an option.

Mr. Banks: Many of them come to us retired at 38 or 39 years old; million-dollar men. We hand select them. We have anywhere from 50 to 60 resumés on my desk at a time, but we have the opportunity to hand select and take the very best that we want.

Mr. Williams: I threw one bouquet to the oil industry. The oil companies have some strict criteria around crewing. A transport pilot to meet the Transport Canada minimum standards is one thing to become a pilot, but the oil companies have their own; they ratchet it up. Not only that, we get audited against those standards annually, sometimes semi- annually. It happens quite often. We love the fact that we are held to the standard and audited against the standard. The oil companies under the OGP, the Oil & Gas Producers, have some very stringent rules around the requirement for our flight crews.

Senator Enverga: I must be watching too many movies, but are you guys equipped in case there is a search and rescue operation, for example, and you need to rescue a boat from piracy or terrorists? Or do you have to call the air force?

Mr. Reid: That would be a real stretch of the mandate.

Mr. Banks: I don't think it would be RCAF, either; that would be JTF.

Senator Raine: This has been great. I have a couple of questions. How long does it take to get a release from the oil companies if you have to go on a SAR mission?

Mr. Williams: What we have been doing is going and then informing, but with some blanket criteria.

I assume you would all be familiar with the Canadian Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board, the petroleum regulator. In order for us to fly a passenger aircraft to and from the oil rigs, there must be a 20-minute response time. The oil companies have to live up to that mandate of the board. If this was a life and death situation, for example, if we had a passenger aircraft that was just flown to an offshore platform, it would remain there and not fly back until our asset became available. We have certain protocols and guidelines around that now that. We've even had oil and gas producers that have cancelled flights and have said we will leave our flight on the ground. You do that mission. There are protocols around it so we wouldn't be delayed because of it.

Senator Raine: It seems to me that for the Canadian public the way it is right now, it's probably working pretty well — especially since you have been not been charging to date. I would guess that's not really sustainable, especially if you are looking at going further afield to the North. You are looking to develop some kind of a contract or a callout relationship with the Canadian air force for this kind of SAR mission, and perhaps because you would have that contract, then purchasing one more machine would give you a little more capacity?

Mr. Williams: What we talked about is a small area. Basically, the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland is where we use our current assets. But for the bigger picture where we want to go, there are no assets.

There are two components of what we are talking about, and I don't want to overshadow the one where we are tasking an asset in Newfoundland today. It is the bigger picture of seeing Cougar being injected into the search and rescue program. We are managing how we use this asset that is 100 per cent dedicated and paid for by the oil companies, but it's not easy. There are some times when it is not available. If we have an aircraft airborne 200-mile offshore on the way back, we can't launch our asset to go outside of our region because then we would be going against the petroleum board's regulations that say you can't do that. We have to be cognizant of that and our mandate, and contract obligation has to be met first. If I gave a false impression that it was always available, no, that's not correct. We do manage it for isolated cases.

Senator Raine: I think what has evolved is pretty incredible, and I appreciate why you would like to formalize it a bit. One thing is the fishermen who you save or rescue who happen to be near where you are. However, if you are looking at something further away, then you need to plan and be part of a bigger picture. Is that what you are seeking to do with the air force?

Mr. Williams: Correct. We wouldn't be able to take that asset to go, for example, to St. Anthony on the northern peninsula, or anywhere like that, because then our assets are away from our region, and there is no service to the offshore oil and gas and we are not meeting our mandate requirements in our contract there.

Newfoundland and Labrador is just one small area, but our broader vision is more to do with a bigger region in Canada where we can have a base of service set up to support and complement the SAR program today.

Senator Raine: I think it is an excellent model for all parts of our SAR system. Obviously it is always better if people are busy doing other things and you stop what you are doing and go and rescue someone rather than just sitting and waiting for someone to get into trouble. You could never have a system. I really appreciate what you are doing. Thank you very much.

The Chair: Mr. Williams, Mr. Banks, Mr. Reid, thank you very much for being with us this evening and sharing with us the extensive operations of Cougar Helicopters. On behalf of our Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, we would all like to thank you and wish you the best.

Mr. Reid: Thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned.)

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