Canada's Original Think Tank

Question Period: Assistance for Victims of Flooding

Question Period: Assistance for Victims of Flooding

Question Period: Assistance for Victims of Flooding

Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals): 

Minister Goodale, I know that you are well aware of the recent flooding in my home province of New Brunswick. I thank the government for its assistance thus far in that terrible flooding along the Saint John River.

I also want to go on record as thanking the Canadian Armed Forces personnel and the many volunteers for their efforts to protect people and homes from yet another record year of flooding.

Minister, this situation is becoming all too familiar. Flooding here in Ottawa, in Gatineau and Bracebridge have also caused tremendous damage. Environmental emergencies due to climate change, namely flooding, fires and the like, are on the increase.

I think we can agree that with each environmental emergency these types of things will be the norm in the future.

Your mandate letter called on you to develop a comprehensive action plan:

. . . to better predict, prepare for, and respond to weather-related emergencies and natural disasters.

In January of this year, you and your provincial and territorial counterparts released a document entitled Emergency Management Strategy for Canada: Toward a Resilient 2030. This document is just 32 pages long and 2030 is a lot of floods away.

What concrete steps will be taken in the short term, minister, to address the challenges we’re facing and that we will be inevitably facing in the years to come?

Hon. Ralph Goodale, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness: Senator, thank you very much for the question. As you might imagine, for the last two weeks this topic has preoccupied most of my time and attention as very serious flooding has affected at least four provinces. The original forecast was for the most severe problem actually to be in the Province of Manitoba, where it turned out that the flood that had been anticipated did not fully materialize; there were still some significant issues, problems and flooding south of Winnipeg but not nearly to the levels previously experienced in 2011, for example.

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Your province of New Brunswick had severe conditions down the Saint John River Valley. Fortunately, those conditions have now subsided to a large extent. The province has withdrawn its request for federal assistance. The Canadian Armed Forces are standing down, and they’re now moving into the return and recovery phase.

The same process is beginning in Ontario and Quebec, although there are still very high water levels along the Ottawa River; the St. Lawrence Valley; the Great Lakes; in cottage country, as you mentioned, north of Toronto; and also in Kashechewan and other places along Hudson Bay and James Bay.

In all of those circumstances in four provinces, the Canadian Armed Forces have been of extraordinary assistance. As the Minister of Defence likes to say, “They are quick to arrive and they are slow to leave.” The disengagement terms are always managed very carefully between the Canadian Armed Forces and the local provincial emergency management authorities.

All Canadians would join you and I in commending the Canadian Armed Forces and all of the first responders, the provincial and municipal officials, the volunteers and everybody who came to the rescue and did such a remarkable job.

I also want to mention the Canadian Red Cross, which is providing funding and assistance to people who were dislocated and directly affected by the flooding, wherever it happens across the country. The Government of Canada made a contribution, as you may know, last Friday of $2.5 million to the Canadian Red Cross to assist them in delivering those services. They typically cover immediate human needs that fall outside of official recovery programs that are not otherwise covered.

The strategy you referred to with respect to emergency management has been in the development stage for the last three years. We’ve been working very carefully with the provinces and territories to put this national strategy together. We’re also working very closely with Indigenous leadership, because that is important in terms of the overall inclusiveness and effectiveness of the strategy.

What the provinces and territories will now do is take the strategy and identify within each of their jurisdictions — because they’re all a bit different across the country — the immediate priorities that they see as essential, moving forward, to meet emergency needs within their jurisdictions. The provinces have the lead jurisdiction under the Constitution. The Government of Canada plays a supportive role, but I’m happy to say that in the relationships we’ve got with all of the provinces and the territories, there is a very good effective working relationship that delivers the necessary services and cooperation.

There are three federal programs that are immediately relevant here. One is the DFAA, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement. It’s a cost-sharing arrangement that has existed since 1970. Under that arrangement, the provinces identify the recovery programs that they would like to put in place, the compensation, costs and so forth. Then they invite the Government of Canada to cost-share. The lower the cost of the disaster, the smaller the federal share; the higher the cost of the disaster, the bigger the federal share. It’s all worked out under the arrangement, and it has worked very well over the years. That program will click into place and we will deliver our federal responsibilities under that program.

There are also two others. The first is the National Disaster Mitigation Program, which helps particularly with things like flood mapping so that we can identify where the risks are for the future and advise municipalities on things like zoning in terms of where to build and where not to build. There’s also the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, which focuses on building infrastructure that is more resilient to climate change. That program will also be useful in the weeks and months ahead.