The federal government provided more than $84 million to Manitoba First Nations communities flooded out in 2011 but admits it doesn’t know how effective the emergency aid was.

An Emergency Management Assistance Program (EMAP) report released this week by Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) finds the program helped with immediate safety issues but the government says it can't assess the effectiveness of long-term safety issues and permanent flood protection.

The review also finds that its emergency assistance program was "ineffective" and it highlights the government's limited ability to address long-term and systemic issues faced by First Nations during natural disasters.

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The federal government's emergency assistance program for flooded-out First Nations communities in Manitoba was “ineffective”, according to a report that also highlights the government's limited ability to address long-term and systemic issues faced by First Nations during natural disasters. (CBC)

"It became clear that the emergency management system was being stretched to the limit of its capacity and EMAP was not able to muster the required additional 'surge' capacity to deal with the situation in an effective way," the report says.

Organizations involved in the emergency response, including Manitoba’s emergency measures office, the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters (MANFF) and the affected First Nations communities "lacked trust and cooperation with one another," the report adds.

That was due to "unclear governance and processes" that the AANDC Manitoba regional office was responsible for, which caused confusion at all levels, states the report.

The regional office is cited in numerous findings, described as an "overwhelmed" system that depended on one person, the emergency management coordinator.

Funding structure 'inefficient'

The report reveals First Nations communities that needed emergency assistance were paid in advance by AANDC to respond to the flood. The communities would then submit claims to the Manitoba government for reimbursement.

The province would pay and then recover the costs through their disaster financial assistance agreements with the federal public safety department — a process that can take up to six years.

Ideally, the claims would be equal to the advance but problems arose when the claims were deemed "ineligible" by the province.

This resulted in a repayment process that could take years for the First Nation to pay back the province.

The report proposes that the province "exhaust all reasonable and practical means" through the courts to recover the money and only then will they consider sharing the costs of the losses.

No human cost calculated in report

Manitoba Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard says the report is an acknowledgement the federal government’s effort came up short in 2011 and that there needs to be major changes.

He says that the federal government doesn’t factor in the human cost of the disaster.

"What strikes me as really clear is that today we have almost 2000 people out of communities," he told CBC News.

"And there is nowhere here that adequately addresses that there needed to be a major effort to get people back home."

Recommendations in the report include:

  • A need to develop better linkages with other programs within AANDC to ensure an effective system for supporting long-term solutions.
  • The development of guidelines for First Nations emergency management plans that show how the First Nations can access assistance and plans should be updated and held at the regional office.
  • Clear procedures need to be developed to support emergency responses.
  • All partners should be engaged to create an effective emergency management system.

In an email, Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada says the "health and safety of First Nations communities is a priority" for the federal government.

"This review is in keeping with Canada’s commitment to results-based management and accountability to Canadians," the department added.