Public safety, not costs, the top priority in fighting floods, Goodale says
Federal government delivers more troops, sandbags in an 'all-of-Canada' approach to emergency
Public safety, not figuring out who pays for what, is the top priority in the government's "all-of-Canada" approach to fighting massive floods, says federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Goodale provided an update today on the federal response to the emergency, including 250,000 more sandbags from the Canadian Armed Forces stockpile for Ontario and more military personnel for Quebec.
Asked who will ultimately foot the bill, Goodale said that in some cases there are cost-sharing arrangements, and sometimes the military absorbs the costs. In the end, he said a fair and amicable solution will be worked out.
"We have not in the last number of days had any focus at all upon the cost issues because the important thing right up front is public safety. Get the job done," Goodale said.
Ontario requested the supplies, but has not asked for any military personnel.
About 1,650 Forces members (1,500 troops in the field and another 150 support staff) have been deployed to help local civilian authorities in southern Quebec.
Marine vessels, a dozen helicopters and a Hercules transport are also on standby if needed, he said.
- Frustration grows among flooding evacuees
- Montreal declares state of emergency
- Cross-border commuters told to stay home
The federal government is also keeping close watch on the situation in New Brunswick, the Gaspé and along the North Shore of the St. Lawrence, where the wet weather system remains, and on dangerous water conditions in the B.C. Interior.
Some residents forced to flee their homes have expressed frustration that local officials did not prepare better for the flooding and do more to mitigate the devastation. According to jurisdictional protocol, the federal government must wait for a formal request from a province to assist in an emergency.
Goodale said local and provincial officials are in the best position to determine when they require assistance, and that the situation was evolving rapidly on the ground. The federal government responded within 30 seconds to say "yes" once the request was made.
Goodale expects the topic of protocol will be on the agenda when he meets with his provincial and territorial counterparts in coming weeks.
"That review is already underway, but it is important to recognize that jurisdictional authorities need to be respected," he said. "We will examine whether the present procedure and protocols [are] appropriate in all circumstances."
In his statement, Goodale outlined the role of various departments in dealing with the weather emergency:
- The Canada Border Services Agency has offered its training centre in Rigaud, Que., to house evacuees.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada is providing weather and water flow forecasting, and scientific expertise for the effective management of reservoirs.
- Natural Resources Canada offers geomatic services and satellite imagery to better understand the scope of rising water levels.
- Transport Canada will provide air surveillance and instructs ships using the Saint Lawrence Seaway to avoid activity that would cause more damage to the shoreline.
- Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada is working with telecommunications providers to ensure reliable services are maintained.
- Public Health Agency of Canada is working with the Red Cross to accumulate stockpiles of supplies to help people evacuated from homes.
- Global Affairs Canada is in contact with U.S. officials and agencies such as the International Joint Commission that have common interest in cross-border water flows.
"This is an all-of-Canada approach to maximize the support we can all offer together to other Canadians in distress, just as we did exactly one year ago when a beast of a wildfire was ravaging Fort McMurray in Alberta," Goodale said in a commentary released earlier today.
Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement said the government has responded appropriately with assistance for the emergency so far. But he expects the "bickering" over money will come later, and said he will watch closely to see if the government comes through with adequate federal disaster relief funds.
"It will be interesting to see if the federal government makes that easy for the provinces and individuals, or tough," he said.
NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé said the government responded quickly and adequately to requests for assistance, but he also expressed concern that financial and physical support could thin out after the cameras turn away. He said that in 2011 military personnel were withdrawn quickly and the removal of sandbags was left largely up to volunteers.
"We hope the help that is being offered is maintained," he said.
Federal buildings across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Que., are closed Monday and employees who commute across the bridges were told to stay home.
Red Cross appeal
The Canadian Red Cross has launched a Spring Floods Appeal — donors can direct their dollars specifically at helping in Quebec, or can earmark their money wherever help is needed most across the country. Funds will help people once they return home to pay for necessities such as cleanup, rebuilding and furniture.
Donations can be made online at www.redcross.ca or by phone at 1-800-418-1111.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Terrasse-Vaudreuil, Que., to observe flood damage and offer support to those working on the ground.
Trudeau also made what the Prime Minister's Office called a "spontaneous stop" to meet with affected people and thank the first responders, volunteers and neighbours.