Billings council calls for OPP helicopter to be returned to Sudbury base

MANITOULIN—Billings township council has given its support to having the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) helicopter returned to Sudbury. This falls in line with a similar resolution that had been passed by council for the City of Greater Sudbury; and this and other Northern municipalities’ support for bringing the helicopter back (to being stationed) in Sudbury is critical to the process, says the MPP for Nickel-Belt.

“I must say when the first round of pressure was put on the government to bring back the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) helicopter to Sudbury, the government promised a review would take place,” stated France Gelinas, MPP for Nickel Belt, when contacted by the Recorder on Monday. “Now the City of Greater Sudbury council has made a formal request for the helicopter to be brought back; and they are encouraging all municipalities in the North to support this. I just hope they get a good response from Northern municipalities.”

“If enough support is given for the return of the helicopter to Sudbury, the government will be in an uncomfortable position if they don’t bring the helicopter back,” said Ms. Gelinas.

“It would be hard for you or I to come up with the $240,000 the OPP says it will save by having had the helicopter moved to Orillia, but the OPP deals with millions of dollars every year,” said Ms. Gelinas. “When a rescue mission occurs up North it would add significantly more time for the helicopter to respond by not having it based in Sudbury. As has been pointed out to the OPP and the government, there are lots of opportunities where costs could be saved by sharing airport hangars, office space and staff with the ORNGE base here in Sudbury and the OPP and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The review would have included looking at this sharing of space, but the review was never done.”

“But if enough support can be generated among municipalities in the North for its return to Sudbury then a review will have to take place,” continued Ms. Gelinas. “Sudbury talks for 180,000 people and the province can’t ignore hundreds of thousands of people. It will be a whole lot harder for them to ignore if several municipalities in the North passing motions requesting the OPP helicopter be returned.”

Billings township council agreed to pass a similar motion to one it had passed previously, calling for the OPP to bring the helicopter (which is now based in Orillia) back to Sudbury, at a council meeting this past Monday.

“This is very timely,” stated Billings councillor Brian Parker. “With the council of Sudbury having just passed a motion calling for the return of the helicopter, and MPP France Gelinas pushing for it, and it’s hoped a lot of support comes from northern municipalities on this issue.”

Billings council passed a resolution which states in part, “the OPP has decided to close the search and rescue helicopter base in Sudbury and move it to Orillia. Most of the calls (for service) were related to hunters or fisherman missing in remote areas of the North and there is much more remote area in Northern Ontario than in Southern Ontario, which means there is a greater need here that in Southern Ontario for an aircraft dedicated to emergency response. As well, locating the Search and Rescue helicopter in Orillia will delay rescue efforts in the North and any potential financial savings in relocating the search and rescue helicopter does not compensate for the loss of a life. Be it resolved that council does not support this decision and requests that the OPP reconsider the ‘cost cutting’ decision and have the search and rescue helicopter remain in Sudbury, where it can respond to Northern emergencies in a  timely manner. This resolution is being sent to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, the Premier, MP’s Gelinas and Thibeault, the City of Greater Sudbury and the Manitoulin Municipal Association (which had previously passed a motion) to call for a reverse of the decision by the OPP.