Thank you, Chair.
We appreciate the invitation to be here. I am joined this morning by John Burrett, a senior policy analyst in social development in our organization, and Josh Bates, who works with John.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is, of course, the representative institution of an association of municipal governments in Canada. We embrace 1,450 local governments, and they comprise 87% of the Canadian population among them. We have very strong participation from Canadian municipalities in all parts of the country.
Of course, we're here to talk about Bill C-12. We want to say at the outset that inasmuch as the bill empowers the federal minister to act in cases of emergency and to increase the capacity of the minister to act, we are strongly in favour.
My comments are really on the municipal role in emergencies. I would invite you to reflect on that and possibly enhance the act in a small way.
Of course, the department has said on its website that the Emergency Management Act in part is to ensure that the federal response to an emergency is coordinated and harmonized with other jurisdictions. In our view, this can't really happen unless municipal governments have some kind of presence in the consideration. Municipal governments are the first responders in cases of emergency. They provide many services, as I will demonstrate, that are critical whenever something goes wrong.
In our view, the bill as currently written will not lead to better coordination across jurisdictions because there's virtually no reference to the municipal order of government. We will suggest how that reference can be made explicit.
I think that because the municipal role is often not recognized at the federal level, we do not benefit from some of the funding that is made available from to time to improve our emergency capacities. We think this is inappropriate, as I will show, given the things we provide in this area. Frankly, this lack of involvement wastes resources and threatens the well-being of Canadians.
Municipal governments are the first responders in 95% of emergencies in Canada. Municipal governments are generally responsible for police, firefighting, paramedics, public health, which is terribly important, emergency shelters, and other first response capacities.
The threats that we manage are growing, perhaps even exponentially. Of course there is a constant concern about public health and the possibility of pandemics, such as SARS, which I'll talk about later. There are severe weather events driven by climate change, and we seem to have more frequent events. Major accidents and related toxic spills are from time to time also increasing in frequency simply because traffic is increasing exponentially. And of course there is the ever present threat of terrorism.
Cities are also expected to carry most of the burden for security at events such as major conferences and sporting events. In fact, in many cases we own the facilities in which these large events occur.
Finally, it's important to note that we own much of the critical infrastructure: the water supply systems, which I would say are reasonably vulnerable in this country; the waste water systems; in many cases, the electrical supply systems; the transportation networks, bridges, and roads; and the transit systems, which we have seen in other countries are extremely vulnerable. But we are not at the table when decisions are made regarding national emergency management plans and strategies. We're simply not there.
The only reference in Bill C-12 to local authority is that the minister would work with them through the provinces. There's that one mention, but we think it is inadequate.
Failing to acknowledge formally and fully the essential nature of the municipal role in developing and deploying emergency preparedness policy risks perpetuating the current system and does nothing to change the paradigm that has traditionally seen municipal governments and their front-line agencies left out of critical planning and being under-resourced.
From our perspective, the absence of true municipal integration into overall emergency management plans results in a patchwork of guidelines, resources, and expectations that differ province by province, territory by territory, and community by community. We don't believe other orders of government are therefore getting the full picture and taking into consideration the front-line requirements of municipalities.
Our specific suggestion is that, in the preamble to the bill, the Parliament of Canada could recognize the fundamental role of municipal governments in responding to local, national, and international emergencies, and then a coordinated and efficient response to emergencies requires collaboration among all orders of government. This wouldn't be binding in law, but it would be a reference point that would help in the reflection of parliamentarians and service providers, and the minister, in the event that municipal governments were called upon.
We'd be happy to work with the committee or others in suggesting precise wording, and we have delivered to the clerk copies of our June report on emergency planning, which is very substantial. It was prepared for us by external experts, and it outlines in considerable detail many of the issues we would like to raise.
I want to talk about some specific instances to put in concrete terms what we have in mind.
I don't know if many of you were living in Toronto in the 1970s when a railcar filled with chlorine derailed in Mississauga. It was only through the extremely well-organized efforts of the police and fire departments that lives were saved. The entire city was evacuated. A quarter of a million people were evacuated with remarkable speed and remarkable efficiency, a service provided entirely by the regional police and fire departments.
I remind you of the ice storm. Some of you might have been in Ottawa when that terrible event occurred--or in the Eastern Townships or other parts of Quebec, or in Montreal, for that matter. This was a catastrophe of enormous scale, and of course in Ottawa, where I lived, it was the municipal government that was responsible for finding solutions to all sorts of immediate and challenging problems. The Canadian military was deployed, and that was extremely helpful, but that was some days later. Those first few days were utterly critical, and of course it's the municipal government that was there to do what it could.
I remind you of 9/11, not 9/11 in New York, but 9/11 over the Atlantic Ocean. You've all perhaps heard of the efforts of the city of Gander and its mayor to accommodate their equivalent population. Their population doubled in a few hours, and they were able, remarkably, by marshalling all kinds of local resources, not only to care for the stranded travellers but in fact to give them a Newfoundland experience, which was unique. Claude Elliott, the mayor, went on the international circuit, on television and talk shows, and became somewhat of a celebrity.
I remind you, of course, of 9/11 in New York. Again, who was it who emerged as the leader of the city and obviously the person in charge? It was Mayor Giuliani. That was his role.
I'll talk a little bit more about SARS in Toronto. I had the privilege of attending a briefing given by the then public health officer of the City of Toronto, Dr. Sheela Basrur. She gave this briefing to a group of U.S. mayors who had come to reflect on the Canadian experience and learn from it what they could.
This crisis was managed by the public health department and the police department of the city of Toronto. There was a federal contribution, which had to do with science and identifying the virus. It was useful. And there was a provincial contribution, which was to pass legislation enhancing the powers of quarantine so we could ensure that the affected individuals would not spread the disease. Of course that entails a great deal of support for the individuals who can't leave their apartments.
The amazing story is that Toronto has the largest public health department in North America--this, I didn't know--with 1,700 public health workers. They were able to take 300 of these workers, give them all the police support they needed, and put them in a special building. They proceeded to conduct an investigation of where individuals affected with this disease had been over the past month, and then they contacted those they had been in touch with to ensure they were also quarantined. This was an enormous undertaking.
We are very fortunate that this disease hit a city that has such capacity. If it had hit another city--and in the views of the U.S. mayors, any one of their cities--the capacity would not have existed to control this problem.
This is another stellar example of the critical role played by local governments.
We leave you with these thoughts, and we leave you with our broad suggestion. I think you have more detailed written information from us, but I hope this can facilitate our discussion this morning.