Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government will match individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross to help those affected by the raging wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., as federal leaders set their partisan differences aside to express their support for Albertans in the House of Commons.
The continuing disaster forced Alberta to call a state of emergency on Wednesday after more than 88,000 people were forced out of their homes in and around Fort McMurray, sending evacuees to surrounding communities for shelter.
"Today, I'm pleased to announce that in addition to the government of Canada providing future … assistance the government will also be matching individual charitable donations made to the Canadian Red Cross in support of disaster relief," said Trudeau, who was drowned out by applause from MPs across party lines.
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"The outpouring of goodwill and compassion from Canadians right across the country has not only been inspirational, it has been entirely characteristic of who we are and the fundamental human values we share as Canadians," Trudeau said in the Commons on Thursday.
Some $11 million has already been donated to the Canadian Red Cross, Jean-Philippe Tizi, vice-president of emergency management, told CBC News in an interview Thursday.
The federal government's pledge comes a day after the Alberta government said it would match donations to the Canadian Red Cross in addition to providing the relief agency with $2 million in seed money to help kick-start operations.
Trudeau said the government had already initiated emergency airlift measures on Wednesday, dispatching a C-130J Super Hercules to Cold Lake, Alta., from the CFB Trenton base in Ontario and supplying four helicopters to evacuate people as the wildfire continues to rage out of control. A C-17 and an Airbus are also on standby.
Federal response to Fort McMurray wildfire
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale applauded the co-operation between federal and provincial officials as he provided an update on the government's emergency response.
Goodale said other federal measures include:
- Four water bombers from Quebec which are set to arrive in the Fort McMurray area Thursday. "There will be more to come," Goodale said.
Three Ontario firefighting teams of 21 personnel each and an Incident Management Team of 17 are also expected to arrive in Alberta Thursday.
Some 3,000 cots, blankets, generators and personal living supplies for evacuees provided by the Public Health Agency which is working closely with the Red Cross. It is now moving its "entire stockpile" into the Fort McMurray area, Goodale said.
The Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development is working with service providers in northern Alberta to maintain and restore communications for first responders and residents in the affected area.
The Canadian Space Agency is helping track the movement of the still raging wildfire, which Goodale said is important in trying to predict where emergency resources will be needed next.
Goodale could not say whether the federal government will put a cap on the amount of donations it would match, saying only that the details would be announced soon.
He also noted "the irony" of this week's disaster response, which happens to coincide with Emergency Preparedness Week in Canada.
"We are all being tested on that front," Goodale said, adding that a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for emergency preparedness is going ahead on Friday as previously scheduled.
Make Fort McMurray a 'top priority'
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who represents the Edmonton riding of Sturgeon River–Parkland, thanked the prime minister for today's announcement and urged his government to make Fort McMurray a "top priority" when considering future infrastructure investments.
"I want to thank again the prime minister and the minister of public safety for making this issue a priority, but most of all... on behalf of all of us, [I want] to tell the families, the workers, the first responders and all of the public officials that are coping with this crisis that we're here for them."
"I will be in Edmonton tonight and doing what I can do, in my small way, in my community," Ambrose said as she fought back tears and paused to complete her statement to the Commons.
"Fort McMurray is a place where Canadians come from all across this country. It's a tough day for Albertans but we will persevere," she said choked with emotion, to a long round of applause from her fellow MPs.
After she finished speaking, Trudeau crossed the floor, shook Ambrose's hand and offered a hug in a show of support.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair thanked Ambrose for her "moving words," while Green Party leader Elizabeth May said her party shared her sentiments.
"We are one country and we love Fort McMurray and every single resident," May said.
Alberta politicians, 'ordinary folks' saluted
"Our thanks go out, of course, to the firefighters, the pilots, volunteers, emergency service workers, but I would dare say... that our admiration goes out to the ordinary folks that we've seen in these tragic events," Mulcair said in his own statement.
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"There is something incredibly reassuring to see how Canadians respond... stories of neighbours helping neighbours, good folks helping good folks," he said.
"I don't know if there are too many societies on earth where that type of calamity would be met with that type of stoic, strong and poised response.
"I think that everyone there deserves our congratulations," Mulcair said.
Ambrose saluted Brian Jean, former Conservative MP and current leader of the Wildrose Party of Alberta, for his courage.
Jean lost his home to the raging wildfire in Fort McMurray where he had lived with his 24-year-old son, Michael, who died last year after months in the hospital.
"He's obviously going through a very difficult time," Ambrose said, "but in the very typical Alberta spirit, he said it's just stuff and we'll carry on and rebuild."
This morning I was able to thank first responders who are working tirelessly trying to keep the fire at bay <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ymmfire?src=hash">#ymmfire</a> <a href="https://t.co/s8FbmGhYn8">pic.twitter.com/s8FbmGhYn8</a>—@BrianJeanWRP
Conservative MP Shannon Stubs read a statement on behalf of her colleague David Yurdiga, who represents the Alberta riding of Fort McMurray — Cold Lake.
Yurdiga rushed back to Alberta when he learned of the catastrophe facing his family and constituents.
"Many of the evacuees he has spoken to are very concerned about their future. Many have limited means as a result of the tough economic situation. Some people are already jobless and now they have lost their homes," she said on Yurdiga's behalf.
"They need help to put the pieces of their lives back together. In many cases, just knowing we care and will not let them down can be enough."
Yurdiga said in a post on Twitter that he was "deeply moved" by the support he was receiving from Canadians across the country.
I have been deeply moved by the continued support from individuals, private business, and govs from across Canada <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ymmfire?src=hash">#ymmfire</a>—@DavidYurdiga
Interim Bloc Québécois leader Rhéal Fortin also expressed his party's "wholehearted" support for those affected by the natural disaster.
"The images emerging from Fort McMurray are surreal... To risk losing everything is a real nightmare that touches me and touches us all deeply," he said.
Fortin thanked Quebecers that have already "contributed generously" to the relief efforts by the Canadian Red Cross.