March 21, 2003


Minister wants federal colleague to rethink Gander Weather Office decision

Environment Minister Bob Mercer is calling on his federal counterpart, David Anderson, to again rethink his decision to downsize the Gander Weather Office. Minister Mercer responded today to Mr. Anderson�s statement Thursday that his decision to severely downgrade the Gander Weather Office will not be reversed.

"It is obvious Mr. Anderson has not taken the time to review the position of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador on his decision," said Minister Mercer. "He came to that conclusion just a few days after he met with Premier Grimes and Gander MHA Sandra Kelly. This province deserves better than this from the federal government."

Minister Mercer said this province�s traditional and continuing dependence upon the forecasting of weather as well as its unique geography warrants the reversal of the federal government�s decision to reduce the number of personnel it has in the province.

"For example, one of this province�s largest traditional industries - the fishery - is very dependent upon the weather and its accurate forecasting as a matter of life safety," said Minister Mercer. "That alone, in my opinion, justifies the Gander office maintaining its full complement of staff."

Minister Mercer said Mr. Anderson should also consider the geography of Newfoundland and Labrador as reason to call off downsizing of the Gander Weather Office. He noted that Environment Canada has some 420 staff throughout Atlantic Canada; yet only 15 per cent of the employees work in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Our province makes up more than 50 per cent of the geography of Atlantic Canada and two-thirds of the coastline," Minister Mercer said. "This information speaks for itself. This decision should be reversed."

Minister Mercer said he is also concerned about the lack of consultation leading up to the announcement of the downsizing of the Gander Weather Office and the apparent about-face the federal government has taken with this decision.

Minister Mercer indicated that his predecessor, Kevin Aylward, had written the federal Minister of Environment in January expressing his disappointment that the provincial government had heard of the impending downsizing through media reports rather than through direct intergovernmental channels. The former minister requested that prior to any decisions being made on this issue that a full discussion take place between the federal and provincial ministers.

"We wanted to ensure the federal government was aware of the ramifications for this province before the decision was made to reduce forecasting services," said Minister Mercer. "Yet, the day prior to Mr. Anderson�s announcement, I received a response from the federal government stating it recognizes the importance of the concerns we outlined and that those concerns were �certainly important to the government� given the predominance the weather plays in Newfoundland and Labrador both in terms of life safety, the livelihoods of our residence and resource development in this province. Frankly, it gives me great concern that such strong messages of understanding can be portrayed one day followed by an act completely to the contrary the next."

Minister Mercer says he will be following this matter very closely and supports the continued efforts of the Premier and his colleagues to have the decision revisited and reversed.

"The actions of my federal colleague give further justification to the comments made in the Speech From the Throne on Wednesday," said the minister. "It is quite clear that the views of this province are not respected in Ottawa. This must change now."

Media contact: Carmel Turpin, Communications (709) 729-2575.

2003 03 21                                      2:40 p.m. 

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