Notley, other premiers call for more federal help with disaster response

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and other provincial and territorial leaders called on the federal government Friday to do more to help provinces and territories recover quickly when they are hit by natural disasters such as the Fort McMurray wildfire.

Alberta leader put disaster help on agenda for premiers' meeting in Whitehorse

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley arrives for a meeting of premiers and national Aboriginal leaders in Whitehorse, Yukon, on Thursday. Jonathan Hayward (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Provinces and territories need more federal financial help dealing with natural disasters such as flooding and this year's Fort McMurray wildfire, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Friday in Whitehorse.

"We clearly are seeing an increased frequency in terms of these kinds of natural disasters and so we need to clarify some of the matters around how they are addressed," Notley told a news conference on the final day of the annual premiers' conference being held in the Yukon capital.

Notley had put natural disaster relief on the agenda for the meeting.

​The premiers issued a communique that said their ministers responsible for emergency management will develop a new model for disaster response and recovery. They will work with the federal government to create a "modernized" national emergency management framework, the communique said.

The provincial and territorial leaders want Ottawa to restore its share of disaster-related costs to levels that existed before changes were made to the emergency management program in 2015 by the former Conservative government.

"We're urging the federal government to reinstate the original program because essentially, what has happened is there's been an offloading of financial assistance to individuals and to provinces and to territories," said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski.

The premiers also want to see a wider range of catastrophic events become eligible for coverage. They want Ottawa to reimburse provinces and territories more quickly for their upfront costs in response to disasters.

"Historically what happens is you see the money years later," Pasloski said.

But he acknowledged Alberta was quick to receive federal help after the "awful fires" in Fort McMurray that led to the city being evacuated in early May.

The wildfire in Fort McMurray is the costliest disaster for insurers in Canadian history. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Notley said Alberta, British Columbia and other provinces are doing "a great deal of heavy lifting" on measures such as fire prevention and need more federal help with disaster prevention in general.

"We want to be able to have a conversation about how we can obviously get more support from the federal government but also work in a more integrated way, because these things cross borders," Notley said.

She said fire prevention has to be seen as part of a commitment to climate-change initiatives and climate-change priorities.

"We need to engage on this, not only as a means of preventing natural disasters in the most urgent sense, but also as a means of reducing the negative climate consequences to some of these massive fires," she said.

Scott Bardsley, press secretary to federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the Liberal government is determined to pay more attention to emergency planning, preparedness and response.

"We remain committed to working closely with the provinces and territories to assist Canadians when disasters strike and to mitigate their impact before they happen," Bardsley said in an emailed statement.

He noted the issues were discussed at a recent meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for emergency management.