Remarks to the Red Cross and Economic Club of Canada on emergency preparedness
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for inviting me to join you today – during Emergency Management Week across this country.
Greetings and good wishes from Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada.
In that government, the portfolio I have the honour to lead consists of the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Border Agency (CBSA), the federal Correctional system, the Parole Board, our Cyber Response Centre, and many other entities and functions – including our emergency preparedness department and the Government Operations Centre (the GOC, as we call it).
Altogether in this portfolio, more than 65,000 skillful, dedicated people work day-in and day-out to keep Canadians safe and to safeguard their rights and freedoms. It’s a 24 / 7 / 365 operation.
I spent this morning with the Prime Minister visiting some of the people who are currently battling dangerous and damaging flood waters in Quebec – alongside counterparts in Ontario, New Brunswick, British Columbia and elsewhere.
The team on the front-line includes the Canadian Armed Forces, municipal and provincial First Responders, a greater many volunteers (including the Red Cross), local government officials and agencies, and the home and business owners who have been fighting so personally and passionately to defend their families, their property, their lives and livelihoods, and their communities.
It was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching.
We think especially of that father in Gaspésie who was swept away in the raging waters … his little daughter, still missing. The two other people still missing in British Columbia. Our prayers surround their loved ones.
Along the Ottawa River, the St. Lawrence and all the connected waterways, and in parts of New Brunswick and British Columbia, a normal-to-high snow melt, coupled with the heaviest spring rainfall in more than 50 years has driven some 3,500 people from their homes. Normal business and community life has been stalled.
The damages and losses will be very significant. Recovery from the dirty, soggy, muddy mess will be slow. For some, the recovery will be traumatic. And they’ll need support.
In responding to the immediate emergency – to keep people safe – the first line of authority and jurisdiction lies with municipalities and provinces. They are in charge. If and when they believe the situation is growing beyond their capacity to cope, provinces make a request to the federal government, through me at Public Safety Canada. Typically, our response is immediate. Our federal intent and goal is to meet every specific provincial “ask”, and the total effort is coordinated through GOC, our Government Operations Centre.
Since last weekend, more than 2,200 Canadian Forces personnel have been deployed in Quebec. That’s more than the combined total of CAF personnel deployed around the world right now. Their presence and proficiency are reassuring. The CAF has also supplied vehicles, aircraft, marine vessels and other equipment. They also provided Ontario with more than 200,000 sandbags, and we located access to another 4-million if needed.
Across government, the RCMP has been well engaged. The Coast Guard. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Natural Resources Canada. Transport Canada. The Public Health Agency. The Innovation & Science department. Public Services and Procurement. It’s an “all hands on deck” whole-of-government approach.
But it’s also more than that – it’s whole of SOCIETY. A crisis like this brings out our “better angels”. The instincts of Canadians are to help people in trouble. We have each others’ backs. That’s who we are and that’s what we do.
And no one rallies the general community more effectively than the Canadian Red Cross. We’re seeing that right now in the floods, just as we saw it so graphically exactly one year ago in battling that beast of a wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray.
More than 80,000 people had to be evacuated within two days. Thousands of structures and nearly 10% of the city were destroyed. The economy was shut down. Over half a million hectares were burned – the worst fire disaster in Canadian history.
Everyone marvelled at the courage and tenacity of the people of Fort Mac. The First Responders were amazing. Local and provincial officials showed solid leadership. Our federal Government Operations Centre and CAF responded quickly and seamlessly to every provincial request.
And again, the Red Cross was at the centre of the action – especially dealing with the human needs of so many people dislocated.
Nearly 3,300 Red Cross volunteers were involved – managing evacuation centres, providing urgent supplies, collecting funds and distributing cash assistance to all those in need. This latter item was truly amazing – using the latest technology and your excellent tracking system, one year ago today, the Red Cross distributed urgent cash assistance to 64,000 people, all on one day.
The records show the vast majority of that money was used immediately by the recipients to acquire emergency supplies.
You also supported community organizations and some 3,000 small businesses to recover. The Government of Canada was pleased to match the individual donor component of your fundraising campaigns for Forty Mac – in the amount of $104 million. And the work goes on.
On behalf of all Canadians, let me say thank you once again for your remarkable service – at Fort McMurray, in the floods this year, and in all the other ways that the Canadian Red Cross serves as a nimble, reliable and excellent “auxiliary” to governments in helping people in times of need.
I recall the words of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson when she inaugurated your national office several years ago here in Ottawa:
“”Humanitarian actions are part of what makes us human. We have to learn and practice how to be human. And only in this way can our society show that it is a civilized one.””
Looking forward, the federal/provincial and territorial ministers responsible for emergency management will be meeting in St. John’s later this month to advance work on a stronger emergency management plan for all of Canada. Momentum in this direction has been accumulating since our government came to office 18 months ago.
We have restored federal funding for six strategically located and all-hazard heavy search and rescue teams across the country.
We have provided new resources for HazMat training for firefighters.
We have budgeted for a new benefit to go to the families of First Responders who lose their lives in the line of duty.
And we’re at work on a national strategy to better cope with the impact of PTSI among safety and emergency workers.
Greater community and individual resilience is a vital factor in coping with disasters when they strike. We’re advancing a number of tools to help Canadians prepare for the unexpected.
“Flood Ready”, for example, is an innovative public awareness campaign that offers tools and tips to help people safeguard themselves before disaster strikes.
“Alert Ready” is a campaign led by Pelmorex Media – owners of the Weather Network and MétéoMedia – to advance understanding about public alerting and what to do when an alert is sounded.
This compliments “Be Ready” – an app from the Canadian Red Cross which helps Canadians track weather developments.
And all this is strengthened by the CRTC’s recent regulatory decision on wireless public alerting which requires service providers to relay public alerts on emergencies through wireless devices.
But there is much more work to be done. At that upcoming FPT meeting is St. John’s, there are five major objectives that are likely to come to the fore:
- enhancing whole-of-society collaboration and governance;
- improving the understanding of disaster risks;
- increasing disaster prevention and mitigation activities;
- enhancing disaster response capacity and coordination; and
- strengthening recovery efforts to minimize future risks.
From my experiences over this past 18 months, let me make just a couple of observations about lessons learned.
With respect to a “whole of society” approach, our partnerships with the Red Cross will be vital. You are ubiquitous with a national, indeed international, reach. You have a large contingent of identified, security-cleared and well trained volunteers. You are well-organized and know to motivate, manage and nurture those volunteers. Your operations are cost effective. You are nimble and innovative. Tested and respected with a strong track record for results.
I look forward to working with you.
On prevention and mitigation – these have to become policy and budgetary priorities at all levels.
It’s large scale flooding right now. A few weeks ago, it was an icestorm in Atlantic Canada. Last fall, a flood in Cape Breton.
A year ago, the inferno at Fort Mac. Before that, a blaze across the boreal forest in northern Saskatchewan. And before that, three years of flooding across the southern prairies – including the inundation of Calgary and High River.
For reasons like these, we have put $2.6 billion in our budget for Infrastructure, specifically aimed at works that will mitigate disasters and adapt to the obvious consequences of Climate Change.
And when we rebuild – we need to build-back-better, not just recreating the same old vulnerabilities.
These are some of things on our national agenda, in partnership with provinces, territories and municipalities.
They’re also on our agenda internationally as part of the United Nations’ Disaster Risk Reduction strategy. And let me close on this point … A key issue Canada raised at a recent gathering of UN countries in Montreal is that our planning and activity must be inclusive – including Indigenous people.
Here in Canada some of the biggest gaps in emergency preparedness and emergency planning are in Indigenous communities, and we need to make sure that our commitment to safety is fully comprehensive – leaving no one behind.
Thank you for your attention, and for all your service to Canada!