Evidence of meeting #81 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was provincial.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Serge Beaudoin  Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Patrick Tanguy  Assistant Deputy Minister, Government Operations Centre, Emergency Management and Programs Branch, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Lyse Langevin  Director General, Community Infrastructure Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Mario Boily  Acting Director General, Government Operations Centre, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I'd like to welcome everyone to the committee.

First of all, I would like to recognize that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. We're in the process of truth and reconciliation, so it's important for us to remember our history and start on a journey of reconciliation.

We have two departments with us. There's a coming out of a new department, Indigenous Services, although I understand we're sort of second fiddle to the Senate. Welcome. We have Public Safety here as well. We're so pleased that you could make it.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are conducting a study on the 2017 wildfires in first nations communities. We're looking at emergency measures out of communities and in their areas, traditional territories, as well as fire services in the communities. There are two components to the study.

You'll have an opportunity to speak for up to 10 minutes, and then we will go into rounds of questions. I'm sure you know how it works.

Who's going to start?

11 a.m.

Serge Beaudoin Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Chair, we can start.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Indigenous Services, welcome.

11 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

Good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members. Thank you for inviting us here today.

I am accompanied today by Lyse Langevin, Director General of the Community Infrastructure Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

I am here today to provide information on this year's wildfires affecting first nations communities, emergency management on reserve, and on-reserve fire protection. I will also talk on our department's work on partnering with first nations and supporting their efforts to advance community resiliency.

In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Canada is committed to partnering with indigenous people in building resilient communities. It is really through this partnership that we action our shared priority of ensuring the health and safety of first nation residents. A critical component in ensuring the achievement of our shared priorities is departmental support of indigenous communities to effectively respond to and recover from emergency events, such as the wildfires that occurred this year.

As with any community in Canada, the responsibility for emergency management on reserve starts with the first nation communities themselves as the first level of response. When an emergency event exceeds the capacity or capabilities of the communities, they seek assistance from the provincial or territorial government, and if necessary, from the federal government.

Currently, the department supports first nation communities during emergency events through the emergency assistance program. This is a program that supports the four pillars of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

For response to emergencies, the emergency management assistance program reimburses first nations, municipalities, provinces, and territories, as well as third party emergency management service providers, up to 100% of eligible response and recovery costs, including costs of evacuations. Eligibility is determined according to the program's terms and conditions.

In recent years, events such as wildfires and floods are increasing in frequency, severity, and magnitude. This is a global trend, but this trend is also true in Canada. These events can result and have resulted in severe social, environmental, and economic consequences for both indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike. However, due to their relative remoteness and isolation in fire-prone areas, many first nation communities are more vulnerable to emergency events and the vulnerability can be exacerbated by remoteness or access to services during emergency events.

Thus, despite making up less than 1% of Canada's total population, one-third of wildfire evacuations over the last three decades in Canada have involved on-reserve indigenous communities. This year, 2017, has seen highly significant wildfires in four provinces affecting indigenous communities, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. During this period, first nations experienced the largest ever number of wildfire emergencies, 49 in total, resulting in their second largest ever number of evacuees. We're looking at over 12,800 people evacuated from first nations.

Alberta saw almost 500 evacuees as a result of wildfires in the southern part of the province. Statistically, this year, British Columbia experienced the largest ever provincial state of emergency. They experienced a record-breaking burnt land mass and approximately 3,200 first nation community residents were evacuated. In Manitoba this year, close to 7,000 remote indigenous community residents were evacuated and in the case of Wasagamack First Nation, community members resorted to using locally owned boats due to the immediacy of the wildfire threat. I'd like to emphasize that this was an extremely high-risk evacuation for the residents and demonstrates how quickly an emergency event can evolve and impact communities. Finally, in northern Saskatchewan, close to 2,300 indigenous community residents were evacuated from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

Overall for 2017, the estimated departmental response costs to support first nations communities in emergency events have been identified at just over $34 million.

During the immediate response phase of an emergency event, communities leverage existing service delivery capabilities within first nations, municipalities, provinces, territories and third party emergency management service providers such as the Canadian Red Cross.

Access to the services beyond the first nations capacity is secured through comprehensive emergency management service agreements between the department and the provinces or territories. Five such agreements are currently in place, and where an agreement is not yet in place, historical arrangements are in place, or other mechanisms to ensure a comparable level of service to those offered elsewhere in the province or territory.

However, the service agreements formally ensure that first nation communities have access to comparable emergency assistance services to those provided to neighbouring communities and non-indigenous communities.

In the spirit of partnership, the new agreements are being negotiated with the full participation of regional indigenous organizations. In the recovery phase of an emergency event, the department supports the repair or restoration of critical infrastructure on reserve to a pre-disaster condition to allow evacuees to return home. With the increase in wild land fire activity and increasingly strained fire suppression efforts, ensuring sustainable community recovery is becoming more and more critical.

In recognition of this, the department is also focusing efforts on the mitigation and preparedness pillars of emergency management. For preparedness and mitigation efforts, the department, in partnership with first nations, invested approximately $12.5 million in non-structural emergency mitigation and preparedness projects. These first nations community-led projects enhance capacity, placing emphasis on indigenous knowledge and practices. For example, since 2015 the department has funded regional partners to a total of $6.9 million to support FireSmart projects in indigenous communities.

To support the protection of first nation communities from the threat of wildfires, the department provides $16.5 million to provinces and territories annually under the emergency management assistance program for wildfire management agreements. Services provided in these agreements range from prevention to pre-suppression to suppression costs.

In addition to wildfires, community fire protection is an essential service that can make the difference between life and death for community residents.

First nations manage fire protection services on reserve. Community officials make the decisions regarding fire protection services under the annual core capital funding they receive from the department. To this end, first nations may establish their own fire departments or contract fire protection services from nearby communities.

Since 2008-2009, the department has provided almost 27 million dollars per year for capital investments, operating and maintenance costs, as well as firefighting training.

The department also funds the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada to support them in coordinating a number of fire prevention awareness and training activities, and advising on implementation of our joint first nations fire protection strategy. This strategy promotes initiatives that focus on fire prevention in order to support indigenous communities in reducing the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries, as well as losses to critical infrastructure.

The department is also committed to the creation of an indigenous fire marshal office. This would provide support to indigenous communities in their efforts to improve life safety and protection of residents, property, and environment. It would also support the development of appropriate indigenous fire services and relevant programs and services. We will continue to work in full co-operation with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association and other key partners on these and other critical elements that we know are needed to enhance fire safety for first nation communities across Canada.

The Government of Canada recognizes that a greater focus on fire prevention is absolutely critical to keeping people and communities safe from fire. This is not just about raising awareness of the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety, but also increased investments in first nation housing to help make homes on reserve meet applicable building codes and regulations.

I'll conclude by emphasizing that the department remains absolutely committed to partnering with indigenous organizations and communities in ensuring the health, safety, and resilience of their communities.

Finally, we will continue to work with them and other partners to ensure that indigenous communities receive comparable services to those of non-indigenous communities in Canada.

Thank you for your time. Merci.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

That was very timely, 10 seconds under.

We'll go to Public Safety.

11:10 a.m.

Patrick Tanguy Assistant Deputy Minister, Government Operations Centre, Emergency Management and Programs Branch, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members. I'm really pleased to be here.

As you are aware, the Department of Indigenous Services has a lead role in working with the provinces and territories regarding emergency management to ensure first nations communities receive necessary response and recovery services.

Following events like the series of forest fires this summer in British Columbia, we conduct a review of the measures taken to fight forest fires in 2017. Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada does this exercise in partnership with other departments such as Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The main observations become lessons learned, and are applied to future incidents.

During the 2017 wildfire response within the federal government, we were able to build a common understanding of the situation, which allowed for effective coordination of federal efforts.

Each year, in consultation with partners such as Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada, the GOC conducts comprehensive planning processes to increase federal preparedness to support the provinces, territories and first nations for potential wildfire events in Canada.

The Government Operations Centre is an interdepartmental organization that supports the minister in his leadership and coordination role in emergency measures. The purpose of its interventions is to direct and support the coordination of the federal response to events affecting the national interest.

As we do after each fire season, a review of the response to the 2017 wildfires will be conducted to improve the emergency management regime and identify preventive measures that can be undertaken ahead of future fires.

While there was excellent federal and provincial collaboration and efficient information sharing at all levels, including the Canadian Red Cross, there were gaps with the level of support to and inclusion of first nations communities in the coordination of firefighting operations. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

Public Safety Canada will continue to support a collaborative approach to strengthening indigenous emergency management and is pleased to be part of any discussions with first nations indigenous services and the province, given the many linkages to on- and off-reserve emergency and hazard management.

Ensuring that indigenous communities are resilient communities is a key aspect of our work. As such, in the context of the development of an emergency management strategy for Canada, we are working to develop and establish an inventory of emergency management plans and capabilities in indigenous communities.

Since May 2016, Public Safety Canada has led a collaborative approach with federal, provincial, territorial, and indigenous partners to strengthen indigenous emergency management. This approach, based on increased engagement, has been undertaken with the key principles of co-developing solutions to indigenous emergency management that are sustainable, inclusive, and culturally sensitive.

Most recently, on May 25, 2017, FPT ministers responsible for emergency management met with representatives from national indigenous organizations to discuss next steps in support of indigenous emergency management. More specifically, FPT ministers and NIO, national indigenous organization, representatives committed to developing an inventory of risks facing indigenous communities and to identifying emergency plans and capacities to address these risks.

To deliver on this commitment, Public Safety Canada has established an FPT indigenous emergency management working group comprised of representatives from provinces, territories, and NIOs. Under this working group the following progress is under way.

The Assembly of First Nations, along with the Government of Ontario as provincial co-chair of the FPT indigenous emergency management working group, are working with Public Safety to co-develop a culturally respectful methodology to collect data on emergency management plans and capabilities across indigenous communities.

Indigenous Services has confirmed support for this initiative and will work with us to gather existing data, for instance first nations emergency management plans, through Indigenous Services regional offices.

Engagement activities are under way with NIOs, such as participation at the AFN's second annual emergency management forum to enable engagement on key initiatives.

Finally, efforts are under way to host northern workshops in partnership with ITK, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and territories to address the unique challenges in northern and remote communities.

In addition, national indigenous organizations have been invited to meet with federal, provincial and territorial senior officials responsible for emergency management on a regular basis to provide insight and perspective on the challenges and solutions. The next meeting of FPT senior officials responsible for emergency management is scheduled for November 15 in Regina. This meeting will be an opportunity to finalize the project charter and reach agreement on timelines for the inventory, and also on capacity.

Public Safety Canada in partnership with Indigenous Services is collaborating with NIOs to also establish a series of workshops to seek specific views on emergency management initiatives and to involve them in the development of an emergency management strategy for Canada.

Public Safety Canada is pursuing its cooperation on all fronts to meet strategic objectives and develop an approach based on principles and elaborate a strategy jointly with indigenous groups.

Thank you very much.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much.

We'll now move into the question period.

We're going to start with MP Mike Bossio.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you both for being here today. We appreciate the presentations that you've made. Where do we start?

This has, as you've mentioned, been a record year as far as forest fires and the impacts that they're having are concerned, and there's the fact that this is going to be an ongoing occurrence. I think we recognize the impacts of climate change are going to bring about more and more of these types of events.

What are the lessons that you've learned? With 49 communities resulting in 12,846 evacuations, that's huge. Moving forward, where do you see us needing to get to? Once again, what lessons have been learned?

11:15 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

Thank you for the question.

There is a formal process that is under way in terms of gathering lessons learned because it's still fairly recent. If I speak about B.C., there's a formal process under way. There have been workshops. Just next week, there are going to be two meetings with first nation communities in British Columbia to gather comments. The idea is really to gather lessons learned from what worked well during the fire season and what didn't work so well and putting those issues that didn't work well on the track to resolution.

As to the lessons learned, I'll refer to what I think is one of the main lessons learned. We have this emergency management agreement with the Province of B.C. It's a 10-year agreement that was signed in April 2017. The ink was barely dry on that when the provincial government went into election. A new government came in. We went into flooding season and then right after on the heels of that into fire season.

The plan with respect to this agreement is to have a high staffing component, up to 26 people, and a large hiring of first nation individuals so that we're working with communities up front of emergencies to do some emergency management planning. This is each community identifying risk to their community and having plans with respect to those risks and having plans to plug and play into the provincial system.

One of the lessons learned is we didn't fully get to implement that; it's a work in progress, but we need to do that hand in hand with first nations leadership. Out in B.C., there's the First Nations Leadership Council. We need to create governance around this emergency management agreement so that the lessons learned out of the formal process, which is starting now and will go into January, and the recommendations stemming from those lessons learned, go to a governance council comprised of first nations leadership, the provincial government and federal government departments.

Everyone there can take away what is their responsibility to put on the track to resolution. Sometimes it will be a shared responsibility, but we need to have a real plan for addressing those things that come up from on the ground.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

We see that they represent 1% of the population but a third of the evacuations that occur as a result of these types of events.

Are you putting the types of resources forward that are going to actually address this? It's great you're doing the work you are in B.C., but we saw what happened in Manitoba and other communities.

11:20 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Are we progressing across the country to meet with communities and provinces to try to get measures in place so that we can avoid these types of circumstances in the future?

11:20 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

We are very concerned about the number of evacuees. That's why we mentioned it as well and we track it very closely. We take a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction approach working with the provincial government, in some cases having emergency service agreements with them. In other cases, such as Manitoba, which you mentioned, we don't have an agreement with the provincial government but we've put in place a mechanism through the Canadian Red Cross where they're working with first nations on the preparedness aspects that I mentioned, the planning, the training. Then if evacuations do need to occur, the Canadian Red Cross is there to support those evacuations.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

We saw what happened in Manitoba and the uncoordinated approach that occurred as a result of working with an organization like the Red Cross when you don't have a provincial buy-in like you do in B.C.

How do we ensure, moving forward, that we establish that partnership with the provinces so that we don't see the fiasco that we saw in Manitoba?

11:20 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

We continue to discuss with the provincial governments.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

How long has that agreement been in place with the Red Cross?

11:20 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

We've had agreements with the Red Cross for the last two years, but just recently, in April of this year, we signed a five-year agreement with the Canadian Red Cross to make sure that we have services that are longer term, not just year by year.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Is that just for the province of Manitoba or across the country?

11:20 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

This is for the province of Manitoba because, again, we take a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction approach. We want first nation communities to have access to comparable services within the jurisdiction so that one community gets the same kind of services that other communities get.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Trying to drill down a little further, what kinds of investments are made? I was a municipal politician at one time, and I know that we developed our emergency preparedness program and platform and coordinated that with the next tier of government and the next tier of government so that we were able to have something feasible in place.

Is that type of approach being taken with indigenous communities across the country? What kinds of investments are there? Do all indigenous communities now have emergency preparedness programs?

11:20 a.m.

Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Serge Beaudoin

We're working jurisdiction by jurisdiction.

If we take the case of Alberta, yes, they all do, and yes, they are completely embedded in the provincial construct, meaning that, when the community's capacity is exceeded, they can call on the provincial government. This has been a long-standing thing with Alberta. They have always said, “An Albertan is an Albertan is an Albertan” and they are there for response, but not only for response. They train side by side. The preparedness aspect is embedded into the provincial system, so that works rather seamlessly.

We're trying to transport that throughout the country by negotiating service agreements. More recently what we've been doing is having first nation leadership at the table for those negotiations to create governance where you have the province, the federal government, and the first nation leadership being able to address the issues that are surfacing, because we want it to be seamless.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questioning now goes to MP Cathy McLeod.

November 2nd, 2017 / 11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

From someone who was really at the coal face of this fire season, I am particularly interested in the conversation we're going to be having over the next number of meetings. Like the process you're going to embark on in terms of what went well and what went wrong, I think it is in that spirit we've entered into this as parliamentarians so that we understand, because certainly it was a very difficult summer.

For my first question, maybe we'll need to get National Defence here, but Public Safety might be able to answer it. One of the things I've heard regularly from both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities is that, obviously, they're very thankful for the military response, and certainly it's very clear what the air support was doing. Does the military have any capacity? All they seemed to be able to do was assist the RCMP. They didn't seem to be able to deal with the domestic response.

I don't know if you can speak to that or if we need to speak more directly with National Defence.

11:25 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Government Operations Centre, Emergency Management and Programs Branch, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Patrick Tanguy

Thank you for the questions. I can answer some aspects of your questions.

The first thing is that, in the process in terms of emergency management in the context of B.C. wildfires, our minister received a request for assistance from the B.C. government, and in turn, given the leadership role and the coordination role of our minister, it was then working with his colleague and working with the Canadian Armed Forces.

In that case, the request for assistance was targeted at providing some assets to be able to evacuate the impacted population. Our Canadian Armed Forces were adjusting and delivering amazing support in accordance with what was requested. In that case, it was great to be able to work together with the province very seamlessly in order, for instance, to pre-position assets to be able to anticipate where there were risks and where we could see we would need to evacuate impacted populations, including indigenous communities.

I don't know if that helps.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

That does help a little bit.

Had the province said, “My goodness, we need someone on the front line because this town is going to go down,” would the military response have been capable of helping with that particular issue, or would you have had to say, “Sorry, that's not something that we're trained in and able to do”?