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House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

The House resumed from December 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Emergency Management ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate today in the debate on Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts.

The bill specifically asks for:

“...the appropriation of public revenue under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out in a measure entitled “An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts”.

This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.

Canadians want assurances that the impact of emergencies will be minimized, that assistance will be available and disruptive effects will be limited and short-lived. To address these issues, the bill is pursuing the commitments under the national security policy, notably the review of the statutory framework for emergency management activities.

The purpose of this new act is to strengthen the readiness of the Government of Canada to prepare for, mitigate the impact of and respond to all hazards in Canada. It recognizes that emergency management is an evolving risk environment that requires a collective and a concerted approach between all jurisdictions, including the private sector and non-governmental authorities.

In summary, the bill would strengthen our readiness to mitigate the impact of and prevent or prepare for and respond to all hazards. It should be noted that the bill actually replaces the Emergency Preparedness Act of 1988 and is virtually identical to the bill introduced in 2005 by the previous Liberal government, namely Bill C-78. Accordingly, I would like to say at the outset that the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill, but there are some areas of question which we believe would be important for committee to address.

The Liberal Party certainly welcomes the reintroduction of the emergency management bill. The bill builds on our record on security since 9/11: first, an investment of over $9.5 billion to strengthen national security, to improve emergency preparedness and to contribute to international security; second, the creation of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; and third, the establishment of a national 24/7 government operation centre to coordinate federal emergency response.

I would like to give some background here. The bill would strengthen the capability of the government to prepare for, manage, mitigate and respond to all types of emergencies. This will become an interesting question because emergencies mean different things to different people. It would establish clear lines of authority and responsibility in collaboration with the provinces and municipalities. The bill would also facilitate information sharing between government and the private sector and with regard to the protection of critical infrastructure.

The bill replaces, as I stated, the Emergency Preparedness Act of 1988, while preserving its basic provisions in the civil emergency planning and preparedness as a key government responsibility; that delineates responsibilities between the public safety minister and cabinet colleagues; that makes provision for federal-provincial cooperation; and finally, that makes provision for post-disaster financial assistance to provinces. The issue with regard to the provinces is also an important one because of the jurisdictional responsibilities and the need for coordination of course.

The revised act grants new powers to the Minister of Public Safety to exercise national level leadership in emergency management by: first, coordinating federal response to emergencies in Canada and the United States. It is an important element that also includes matters that relate to and may have occurred within the United States but may have an impact on Canada.

Second, it establishes standardized elements for the Government of Canada emergency plans. Third, it monitors and evaluates emergency management plans for federal institutions. Fourth, it enhances cooperation with other jurisdictions through common standards and information sharing. In our experience, harmonizing those common standards will certainly be a tough situation, as it always is.

With regard to the bill more specifically, clause 2 defines emergency management as “the prevention and mitigation of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from emergencies”.

Clause 3 establishes a national leadership role for the Minister of Public Safety in relation to emergency management.

Subclause 4(1) outlines the minister's responsibilities in fulfilling that national leadership role and it includes a broad variety of responsibilities. Paragraphs 4(1)(a), (b) and (c) include coordinating functions in development, testing, implementation and evaluation of government emergency management plans. Paragraphs 4(1)(d) and (e) include monitoring potential and actual emergencies and coordinating of the government response. Paragraphs 4(1)(f), (g), (h) and (i) include coordinating emergency arrangements and responses with the provinces. Paragraph 4(1)(j) includes providing financial assistance to a province if requested. Paragraph 4(1)(l) includes providing the continuity of constitutional government in the event of an emergency.

Clause 6 outlines the general responsibility of each minister, and there are other ministries that are involved outside the Minister of Public Safety, to ensure his or her department prepares emergency management plans and sets out common standards of those plans.

Clause 7 grants the governor in council powers to make orders or regulations with respect to emergency management plans, to use federal resources in response to civil emergencies, to provide financial assistance to provinces and to declare a provincial emergency of concern to the federal government. Certainly that is an area of sensitivity that has to be properly addressed.

Clauses 8 to 10 amend the Access to Information Act to permit the government to refuse to disclose private sector information supplied in confidence to the government with respect to emergency management plans. A public interest override is included.

The bill covers a pretty broad range of responsibilities that I might look at a little later in my comments, but I wanted to touch on some of the areas that have come up already with regard to concern within the bill that we would want to look most carefully at.

The bill would allow the federal government to refocus or better coordinate the organization of its response to emergencies. This is not in contention, but we should note that there is a difference between what is called an emergency and what we might regard as a security related incident.

An emergency may be as a result of a natural disaster, whereas a security related incident might be something along the lines of a terrorist attack, for instance. They are not always the same. Most of what the bill would deal with are emergencies involving natural disasters with some component of man-made contribution in it. Being able to assess whether or not we have adequately covered those situations certainly was a matter of interest and concern.

I am a little concerned personally why it took so long for the government to get the bill to us. As I indicated, it was a bill that was substantively before the House in the last Parliament and here we are some time later, but moving on, in reality, emergencies and natural disasters have evolved and become more complex. We simply need a government minister, aside from the Minister of National Defence who historically would have been the lead minister to take charge in these matters, who would coordinate these things. That would be the federal Minister of Public Safety. That is one thing this bill does that is different from the previous bill.

The second thing we are promoting is the imposition of protection for private information of third parties in the hands of government. As I indicated, the bill provides for a related amendment to subsection 20(1) of the Access to Information Act by adding an additional paragraph to give effect to these provisions.

There also are five or six subsections of the act which would be affected. Those ostensibly relate to the circumstance where information is provided to the minister by persons who would otherwise be covered under the Access to Information Act and that their information which is given is going to be exempt. In other words, if it is given with regard to a situation where there is an emergency as defined, that information would be kept private.

The other area of the bill in which there is an amendment has to do with Bill C-2 which has just been passed by the House after receiving some important changes. It was the first full bill that was introduced by the government and I can recall that there was a lot of concern about the haste in which Bill C-2 had been drafted. It contains amendments to a wide range of legislative areas. As well, it puts a significant onus on the public service to establish a broad range of management procedures, all in the realm of ensuring that accountability is kept in place.

The other thing it does which is interesting and has come up a few times, is in Bill C-2, there are some amendments to Bill C-11, the whistleblower bill, which received royal assent in the last Parliament. It received the unanimous support of all parties. We now find ourselves with another important bill which ostensibly arose out of the case of George Radwanski, the former privacy commissioner, who for a variety of reasons was put in a situation where he resigned his position and indeed suffered some consequences as a result of his actions which I will not go into.

Bill C-12 contains a coordinating amendment to Bill C-2 that should Bill C-2 have received royal assent, this amendment included in Bill C-12 will be made to that bill.

The bill repeals the Emergency Preparedness Act, chapter 6 of the fourth supplement to the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985.

The last clause in the bill is the coming into force clause. It is something on which I have commented before as the co-chair of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. We have embarked on a review. In fact at the last meeting we actually were looking at the Fisheries Act and some regulations that were necessary. This item has been outstanding for 23 years. All of the people at the table certainly were not here when it started and I suspect if we do not do something about it, there are going to be new people at the table when it ultimately gets resolved, if ever.

We also had a private member's bill dealing with the repeal of acts which had received royal assent, either entire acts or acts which included amendments to other acts which had received royal assent but had not been proclaimed within 10 years. It has some provisions whereby it could be saved during the last year. That report would be tabled in the House identifying the bills that are coming up to their 10th anniversary and would allow the government of the day to make some decisions as to whether or not it is going to act on triggering those changes.

This bill also includes coming into force. Clause 14 says, “This Act other than section 12 comes into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council”. What that means is that cabinet is going to decide when the provisions of this particular bill come into play. This is the kind of provision which gives rise to the problem of things lingering for an extensive period of time. I am not entirely sure why there is not a specified date or some sort of horizon period. This is a very important bill. It is a bill that I would have liked to see introduced much earlier. This bill which deals with public protection and safety is very important to Canadians.

There is a proviso in the bill which caught my attention. Under “Minister's responsibilities”, subclause 4(2) states:

The Minister has any other responsibilities in relation to emergency management that the Governor in Council may specify.

This may cause some difficulty, although I am not sure and we will have to wait until we can get an opinion on it. The bill is purported to include all of the provisions and responsibilities, but that subclause includes anything else we think we should do. Those things would presumably happen through regulation or governor in council and not be available to the House to consider.

This would appear to give the government of the day a free hand in terms of adding to the bill things which probably should be included in the statutes themselves with regard to better defining this. When there is a blanket responsibility, anything else that the governor in council may specify is basically carte blanche.

We have talked often in the scrutiny of regulations committee about whether a particular regulation or change to a bill in fact has an enabling provision in the act. This has a blanket enabling provision, which means that theoretically almost anything could happen through a governor in council order. That is a matter which may very well come up if not here, then certainly in the other place.

There is another item I want to mention with regard to issues which have come up. Subclause 7(c) allows the government to make regulation to declare a provincial emergency to be of concern to the federal government. It appears that the intention of the bill is to put the federal responsibility on what would be a provincial emergency. When people look at this they are going to want to explore it a little further because of the coordinating requirements.

There is another clause in the bill which deals with making regulations, as I indicated, on the issue of whether we have any statutory jurisdiction in the United States of America. Of course, we do not have any statutory jurisdiction. That would involve an extraterritorial application of our laws. However, it does not prevent us from developing an emergency management plan. The point is that it may involve the spending of money and resources in the United States. That is a matter which gets us very much involved.

Clause 7 of the bill creates the authority to make regulation. It seems to indicate that it anticipates spending money in the United States of America. For example, subclause 7(b) talks about regulations respecting the use of federal civil resources in response to civil emergencies. The question becomes whether that includes assistance in response to United States emergencies. If we respond to an emergency management plan that we have developed with the U.S., are we talking just about the border or are we talking about Laredo or some other area, maybe even Hawaii? There are some interesting questions to which I still do not know whether we have the answers.

I am suggesting there are some technical issues and if it is intended that the minister or governor in council make regulations about joint emergency management plans, that should also be set out in the statute. I am not sure whether that is the case.

All in all, the fundamental elements of the bill appear to be consistent with the bill in the previous Parliament of the Liberal government. The Liberal caucus will be supporting the bill.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have seen consecutive governments struggle to come to terms not only with emergencies that have occurred in Canada, but emergencies that have occurred overseas, especially those affecting Canadians.

Although a protocol was set in place, from time to time we have knee-jerk reactions by governments throughout the years as to how we handle these emergencies. There was the tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan and, more recent, the crisis in Lebanon.

Could my colleague can share with the House some of his thoughts and ideas, especially on the disaster in Lebanon, on the reaction of the government of the day and how it was botched? What can he see should be enhanced in the bill should a disaster like this happen again, not only for Canadians but loved ones of Canadians, especially people thinking of immigrating to Canada, wives and children of Canadians? Could he share with the House some of his thoughts and ideas on the mismanagement of the Lebanon crisis and what protocols should be in place to ensure we do not go down that road again?

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5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are at third reading of the bill at this point. Unless the House decides to return the bill to committee, we will have to rely on the other place to perhaps considered those questions.

I cannot, with certitude, answer the member's question. It does sound like he is talking about the protection of Canadian citizens abroad. I do not believe that was the intent of the bill. I do not know whether there is a way in which, pragmatically, one could build provisos in a bill which would provide that protection or security the member seeks for Canadians citizens abroad, keeping in mind there are Canadian citizens all around the world. I think it would be beyond the scope of the bill as it presently exists. The member may want to raise it with the other place.

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5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us is Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts. Obviously, we have no problem with the basic principle that the federal government can take action to respond to emergencies.

That said, it is extremely important that the federal government understand that the provinces, particularly Quebec, have already prepared emergency response plans. The government should not try to use this bill, which is now at third reading, to encroach on areas of jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. The summary of the bill reads as follows:

This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.

In future, we should perhaps take into account the motion adopted in this House to the effect that Quebeckers form a nation. When the bill refers to a national system, it is actually referring to a Canada-wide emergency management system.

A number of aspects of the bill could lead to encroachments on Quebec's jurisdictions. As I mentioned, Quebec already has a number of emergency response plans. These plans and the legislation that provides for them were developed in the wake of catastrophes such as the flooding in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the ice storm.

In 2001, Quebec adopted a new Civil Protection Act, which replaced the Act respecting the protection of persons and property in the event of disaster, dating from 1979. I want to point out that this reorganization took place under the direction of the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who was then the Minister of Public Safety in the National Assembly of Quebec.

Under the law that was adopted in 2001, a national plan was drawn up, a civil protection plan for Quebec. It divides responsibility among government departments and agencies according to their respective jurisdictions and organizes government resources so that the government can respond to various types of disasters.

Obviously, we all understand that to be effective, this plan relies on some relatively simple principles: citizen and corporate accountability; better preparation of regional authorities, such as municipalities and, in Quebec's case, regional county municipalities; better coordination among partners in the sector; and optimal use of the Government of Quebec's resources. Obviously, there would be no problem with the federal government introducing a plan that complements the provinces' plans, as I said. When the ice storm hit, the Government of Quebec called in the Canadian army to help, especially to clean up the road system, which was in terrible shape because of weather conditions.

In that context, the Bloc Québécois recognizes the federal government's right, nay, its obligation, to ensure that its institutions and departments are prepared to deal with emergency situations. The Bloc Québécois also believes, as I said, that the federal government should not interfere with how Quebec and the provinces organize their public emergency services.

I must reiterate the fact that it is, first and foremost, every citizen's responsibility to prepare for potential disasters, even if that means just having a first aid kit at home. Companies are also responsible for having their own plans for dealing with emergency situations. According to Quebec's plan, the front line responders are the municipalities, regional county municipalities—which support their municipalities—and the Government of Quebec—which supports the regional county municipalities and the municipalities.

Once again, I repeat that not only does this make perfect sense, it is also desirable for the federal government to develop an emergency response plan and corresponding legislation. Let us hope that this does not mean more opportunities to encroach on Quebec's jurisdiction.

We will support this bill on those terms.

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5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague from the Bloc Québécois. He mentioned that the province of Quebec was ready for a national emergency. How would he react to an emergency that involves Canadians overseas?

I am sure my hon. colleague will agree that it takes the Government of Canada to respond to an emergency overseas where Canadians are in harm's way. It needs to ensure that Canadian diplomats are in place as well as Canadian know-how to get folks home from a place such as Lebanon. Has my colleague any comments on that?

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5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. As I mentioned in my speech, clearly, certain matters come under federal jurisdiction, and he just mentioned one example. In the crisis that arose in Lebanon this summer, it was normal for the federal government to take responsibility for evacuating Canadians.

As I said and I will repeat here, it is customary for the government to have an emergency plan as well as legislation for emergencies. It is important to bear in mind that, within their jurisdictions, the provinces and Quebec already have some plans. We must avoid overlapping and duplications. What we are hoping for is coordination.

Obviously, certain situations can affect more than one jurisdiction, such as a natural disaster or epidemic. Imagine if the SARS outbreak in Ontario had spread to Quebec. Clearly, in this type of situation, the federal government can play a role of coordination, but it must nevertheless respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.

The hon. member is right. On the international stage, and until Quebec becomes a sovereign state, the federal government is responsible for evacuating Canadians and Quebeckers caught in emergency or crisis situations, as in the example of Lebanon I just mentioned.

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5:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-12 at third reading.

The Government of Canada has needed this bill for quite some time, in the sense that it allows us finally as a government and our agencies across the country to prepare for a state of emergency. I think mostly we are addressing natural disasters. These are ones that can cause great damage, not only of a monetary amount but also in terms of deaths and injury to our citizenry.

We know from looking across the globe, when other countries have faced those kinds of natural disasters, that it is abundantly clear that if we are ready, prepared, have a plan and coordination in place, have resources in place, both in terms of dollars and personnel that a substantial difference can be made in the outcome, both in terms of the number of lives and the number of injuries we save and, yes, the amount of dollars we save for our communities by reducing the impact of natural disasters.

I do not think we have seen that more clearly in a developed country than what we saw in the United States with hurricane Katrina about a year ago. We had the wealthiest country in the world in terms of economic well-being that was not prepared, did not have the coordination in place, the personnel in place and the resources in place.

As a result, one of the major cities in the U.S. was devastated for an extended period of time. The city had mass evacuations and many more deaths than would have been normal for that type of an incident had the city been prepared and had that coordination been in place.

What Bill C-12 does is to provide us with that infrastructure. Parts of the bill are already there. A good deal of it is already there, but it is not in a coordinated fashion.

The people who do this work, who came before us and have testified, both from the federal government and from other areas, both the non-profit area and some of the other institutions that are most keenly affected by this, the utility companies for instance, all made very clear their desire to work in a coordinated fashion, to get all of the structure in place.

We need a structure should we be faced again with a flood in your home province of Manitoba, Mr. Speaker, or with an ice storm that we had here in Ontario, or with the loss of power that we had along the whole eastern seaboard only a couple of years ago that also affected Ontario. We can go down the list and we know that we have not always responded to the very best way.

Hopefully, this structure that we are building by way of this legislation will in fact allow us to respond to our absolute maximum. The NDP is going to support this legislation. It is badly needed legislation, as I have already said. The one trepidation I have in supporting the bill is that we have not dealt fairly with the local level of government and with the NGOs, the non-profit sector and the volunteer sector.

There is passing mention of them in the legislation. The crucial part we know. We can say this because we heard some of this evidence in committee. In March I was at an international conference that was hosted here in Canada. We had people from Pakistan who recently dealt with an earthquake about this time last year. We had representatives from a number of the countries that had been devastated by the tsunami in Asia.

Every single country, without exception, whether they were an undeveloped and poor country or a first world developed country, said the same thing. They said that the key to minimizing the impact, other than the coordination and the planning in advance, was the ability of the local community to respond in the first few hours, the first 24 to 48 hours.

Generally speaking, regional governments, in our case, the provinces, or national governments, our government, are not able to get their people in fast enough, their equipment in fast enough, or their resources in fast enough to respond immediately. That happens at the local level. We talked in terms of first responders and that, with very few exceptions, is the local level of government, the municipal level of government.

Certainly, the Red Cross and agencies like that are also there, oftentimes again, within the first few hours. They provide the initial immediate relief. They are the ones who save lives. They are the ones who prevent further injury and minimize injuries. They provide food and clothing immediately and shelter, oftentimes immediately.

The legislation has a failing in this regard in that it does not adequately reflect that key essential role that the local level of government provides and I want to take this opportunity acknowledge that.

The official opposition and I made various attempts to amend the legislation in committee during clause by clause study to try and get that acknowledgement in, buttress the role that local governments play by way of officially acknowledging them in the legislation. However, between the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, they would not support those amendments and they did not pass.

The end result is that although we have had extensive consultation with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Red Cross and some of the other agencies, the legislation is not fair to them. I make these comments recognizing all of the very fine work that they have done and that I am sure they will continue to do.

There are some additional things that the federal government could do in terms of bringing them in early to the consultation process and having them on some of the planning and coordinating committees that will be established. Some are already under this legislation and they play a key role when we actually are faced with this kind of a disaster.

We will be supporting the legislation with those reservations. It is important that we get started on this. That planning and coordination, putting in place the resources, will further protect our citizenry. No government has any greater responsibility than to protect its citizenry from this type of public danger. The sooner the legislation gets through and we begin to deploy it, the better off the country will be as a whole.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard my hon. colleague from the NDP speak very passionately about the role that the NGOs play. Having been to some of the places that he mentioned, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Indonesia, and seen firsthand the work that the local NGOs play and certainly how they are able to deliver for the first 24, 48, or 72 hours a need, his comments are appreciated. However, I am going to ask my colleague to go one more step.

Canada, being such a diverse country, has many citizens from many different places and many of them do travel. Does the hon. member not feel that we could extend this legislation one step further so that it also includes the response from this government should Canadians end up in a situation, such as a tsunami or an earthquake in Pakistan or an earthquake in Gujarat, India, or even what happened in Lebanon with 50,000 Canadians. Does he not feel that we need to have in place tested means so that we are able to evacuate our citizens and provide for them firsthand to ensure that they are returned to Canada safely?

We have citizens all over the world. In my constituency of Scarborough—Agincourt, I have close to 27,000 Chinese. Many of them have dual citizenship and many of them have family in Hong Kong, and some of them travel to Hong Kong. Should a disaster happen in that part of the world, should a disaster happen in any other part of the world, this legislation does not go far enough to address that issue.

I am just wondering if my colleague and my good friend across the way could summarize his own thoughts in his own words and certainly expand on what happened in Lebanon and the knee-jerk reaction of the Conservative government which botched it up. How can we ensure that this does not reoccur again?

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, like the member, I had the opportunity to be in Sri Lanka and I have seen the devastation that it caused to that particular country and how important it was for the NGOs and for the immediate response we had from the military.

To pick up on the member's point about us being prepared to evacuate people, it is not just in wartime that we are faced with that. We are faced with it right across Asia with the impacts of tsunamis. Those are not nearly the numbers that we are faced with in Lebanon but still substantial numbers. We must be able to provide assistance and get our citizens and residents out of the area.

I do not want to downplay the importance of how poorly I saw the Lebanese war situation handled, having a very large population in my riding and in my community. I agree with the member's assessment that it was handled very poorly. We were clearly not prepared. In that regard I draw to the member's attention paragraph 4(1)(k) in the bill whereby the minister's responsibilities include:

(k) participating, in accordance with Canada’s foreign relations policies, in international emergency management activities;

Therefore, there is an actual direct mandate. It is not as broad as I thought it should be, but quite frankly this legislation clearly was designed to deal with the domestic public disasters, particularly in other emergencies. I should not say public disasters because of course one of the issues could be, for instance, a melt down in one of our nuclear reactors, or an attack on one of them, or on some of our other public utilities. It may not just be a public disaster. It could be an act of terrorism as well.

The proposed legislation is really not designed, as I see it, other than in a very general way, to equip us as a country to deal with international public disasters or incidents that would call for that kind of expertise. Hopefully, as we build that expertise more extensively in this country, it will also teach us how we should be responding in other countries.

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6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. Despite all the lessons in history from World War I, World War II and the tsunami, the member for Scarborough—Agincourt was actually in the government during some of those disasters before Lebanon and frankly did absolutely nothing.

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6:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The Liberals weren't responsible for anything bad.

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6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

I am told they were not responsible, but the fact is that previous government had all kinds of opportunities and did nothing. The member for Scarborough--Agincourt should be ashamed.

I am going to ask the member a question. Frankly, the evacuation in Lebanon was a success. It was an absolute and complete success. I would like the hon. member to comment on the fact that public servants, who the member for Scarborough--Agincourt completely insults, most of whom were not paid, worked 24 hours a day, evacuated 13,000 people in a matter of days, despite the fact the previous government had no emergency management plan.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague from the NDP to recognize the fact that this evacuation mission was incredibly difficult and how successful it was especially dealing with the fact that we had to deal with a number of terrorist organizations in the attempt to get our people out of Lebanon at that very crucial and dangerous time. We had 240 Canadians on the ground going door to door, not just emails, while that member sat on his duff. I wonder if I could get a comment from my hon. colleague on that success.

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in echoing the preparedness needed in the planning, coordination and all of that, I cannot lay too much blame at the feet of the present government. That kind of work has to be done well advance.

As much as I am critical of what happened in Lebanon, I want to be very clear that the staff there showed exemplary courage. A number of them moved into the area, right in the midst of that war, in particular in Beirut, which was being bombed on a regular basis all over the city. They took their lives in their hands and moved in. I do not think we can ever say enough to acknowledge the courage they demonstrated. A very large number of additional staff was moved in, fully recognizing that.

The major concern I come back to, because of the experience I had in the first 24, 48, 72 hours, was the contact in Ottawa. I will take some credit. I made some suggestions that ultimately were followed through. However, when I initially made the suggestions, at the other end of the telephone line was blank air. I got a very quiet they had not thought of that type of attitude and/or they would take it under advisement, but it was really not that important. The sense I had, and still to this day, was that the people on the streets, on the front lines in Beirut and Lebanon, knew what was going on, but the senior people here had not taken into account just how serious the situation was until we were 48, 72 hours into the process. Then the planning began.

Again, it comes back to the legislation. Although it does not deal with it enough, the planning has to be in place at the national level so when the incident happens, we begin to kick in right away. That is what happens at the municipal level now. It does not happen at either the provincial or the federal level, and that is what we hope the legislation will see happen. Maybe we will also be ready for the next international incident as well, to deal with both our citizens and those of other countries.

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6:10 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, has the member given any thought, or the House, given any thought as to how we define a disaster or an emergency? We have been asking the House for the last week to declare a state of emergency where homelessness and poverty are concerned.

I have been travelling the country for the last couple of months, looking at some of our major cities where we would not expect there to be an emergency. We see hundreds of people on the streets, not enough housing and not enough shelters. Now communities are passing laws to make it illegal to be homeless in some of those cities.

At what point and how do we finally, as a society and a government, decide that an emergency is an emergency?

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6:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

That is a very good question, Mr. Speaker. When we look at how emergencies are defined, they are defined by repeating the word “emergency”. It appears in the first few sections under interpretation.

The legislation does not address what an emergency is. I agree with my colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie, about the tragedy we are faced with, particularly in cities such as Vancouver and Calgary where we have unusually cold climates this early on in the year. There should be a very clear category of when we use these services, and that is not clear in the legislation. We see the results of that when we look at what is happening on our streets in all our major cities across the country.

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6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the bill. I want to articulate a challenge we have in the future in terms of emergency management within our country.

When we were in government, we implemented a number of suggestions that would go a long way, but we also have a number of challenges that still need to be addressed by the government.

One thing we did was pre-deployed a number of hospitals, which we used internationally. These hospitals are made up of about 200 beds each and they can be deployed on quick notice for emergencies and urgencies within our country.

The other thing we did was set up a spot in Ottawa that was open 24/7. Its job is to act as a central brain to coordinate the internal management of emergencies within our country. We have coordinated that centre in Ottawa to other areas of the country. Each province has its own management centre, which is tied to areas on the ground.

It is important for the public to know what happens in the case of an emergency.

Our first responders are our police officers and firefighters, who do an outstanding job. If there are emergencies in our communities, they respond first.

The second responders are our Canadian Forces. If an emergency is too large for either of those groups to deal with it properly, then we call in other assets from around the country. That is the internal coordinating mechanism we put forward. However, there are some challenges that need to be worked out and these are some of the things I hope the government will pursue. One is the issue of communications.

What we have seen in the case of hurricane Katrina and other instances, is when there is an emergency, particularly a big one, the civilians, who are victims, are the emergency workers as well. The first thing emergency workers will do is take care of their families, which speaks to the problem of communication.

When there is an emergency or an urgency, one of the first things to go south is the communication network. It falls apart. What we have tried to fast track is an internal communication network across our country that is independent of the existing communication networks. It is absolutely imperative that the government continues the work we did and fast track the need for a domestic, emergency communication network that can be deployed by our first and second responders in the case of an emergency.

I cannot overemphasize the need for this. We learned from Katrina and our Canadian Forces, in their incredible response to the situation in Louisiana. We found that the American response to Katrina was wanting. It was instructive not only for the Americans, but also for us to assess that situation and learn some lesson from it, and we did.

Having learned those lessons and identified those problems, it is important that we act upon them. I want to emphasize the absolute need for the government to invest in and implement, as soon as possible, an emergency coordinating communication network that will not fall apart in the case of an emergency.

I know in my province of British Columbia there is a great worry, naturally, about a tsunami or an earthquake. We know that some time within the next 100 years we will have a massive earthquake as the two plates on the west coast collide and grind against each other, which will cause a lot of problems. Therefore, we need to do a better job of coordinating those mechanisms.

The other thing the government ought to do is engage and upgrade the training for our firefighters, our police officers and our military in the area of HAZMAT, hazardous materials. Hazardous materials require a certain specific area of capabilities and equipment. It is very important for the government to make investments in the equipment and training that we started with respect to our firefighters, our police officers and our Canadian Forces.

One of the things the government could do that would be quite intelligent would be to utilize our reserves. When I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, one thing I was working on was the possibility of utilizing our reserves as part of a second responder team. They would receive the training and equipment that would enable to come together in the communities and be the second responders in the case of an emergency that overwhelmed our police and firefighters.

It is also very important for the government, and our government had started this process, to look not only at the lessons learned from hurricane Katrina, but also at the lessons learned from the 9/11 report. The 9/11 report was very good at laying bare the challenges faced by the authorities in the United States in responding to the terrorist attack in New York. Analyzing and dissecting the 9/11 report would enable our authorities to take a good look at what would be required by government officials in implementing the urgent responses required.

On an international scale, I want to put in this plug right now for the minister responsible for CIDA. There is one problem that I have seen internationally, and it is that whenever there is a massive international emergency, we always start from square zero, so to speak. That is not necessary. CIDA ought to be working through the World Health Organization to establish an integrated mechanism of first responders. We would then have on a computer a listing of heavy lift equipment, emergency medical and military personnel, engineers and others, along with the assets, the perishable foods, tents for shelter, water, and water purification systems, everything that would be needed for a massive emergency. All of it should be established in a database.

Then, if there were an emergency on the west coast of British Columbia, for example, or an emergency in Asia Minor again, where there are always tragedies because of its location in an earthquake zone, rather than starting from square one and trying to identify all these assets, rather than trying to compile them from square zero, so to speak, we would be able to work and lead with the World Health Organization and our health action crisis group and Dr. Alwan.

We could establish an emergency response in which, with the click of a finger on a computer, we could identify those assets. That is the model we use in emergency medicine. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot take that micro-model and translate it into the international sphere. No one has done this before. Whether we are working in an emergency department where we have what is called the golden hour or in this, we know that same narrow window of time applies to international emergencies.

Canada could lead on something like this. If we worked with multilateral organizations and implemented the mechanism that I have suggested, we would be able to save a lot of lives. No one has done this before. It is a niche that our country can champion. It is a niche that we can adopt. It is one that we could use by tapping into the best and brightest minds in our country and others. Essentially, we could develop a coalition of the willing. It would be a true coalition of the willing, an emergency response group specifically developed to deal with emergency situations around the world.

A failure to do this would be unconscionable. We have seen time and time again that dealing with emergency situations in slow motion causes increased levels of mortality and morbidity. If a person is stuck in that kind of emergency situation, the fact is that the person's life can be saved or the illness or injury avoided. It is simply not right for someone to die in an emergency situation when we can do otherwise. I am suggesting to the government that we as a country, we as a Parliament, champion these solutions, which will go a long way to saving many lives.

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6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but take exception to some of the comments that were made by the member for Cambridge. He questioned my integrity. He questioned where I was after the tsunami and where I was after the Pakistan earthquake.

In order to set the record straight, I was there, on both accounts, and certainly there after what happened in Lebanon. We do not need to take this lesson from the Conservatives. They botched that up by the numbers. The minister certainly had deaf ears. I remember calling into Lebanon, and absolutely nobody answered the phones in the Canadian embassy, and yet people were answering the phones in the American embassy.

In his estimate, how does my colleague from Victoria see the reaction, over the summertime, by the Canadian government in response to the crisis in Lebanon? Was it a complete botch-up? Or was it worth this House taking notice of?

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6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the personnel at the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office and CIDA worked exceptionally hard. People pulled 18 hour days and had very little sleep. We want to compliment the bureaucrats who often do not get any thanks but who in this case deserve enormous praise for the hard work they did.

What my colleague is referring to are the actions by the Minister of Foreign Affairs which were late. The elected officials in the government, unfortunately, let the department down in not exerting and exercising the leadership it should have had in the situation. I hope it learned a lesson.

My colleague worked very hard to try to convince the government to act with speed on this. While officials in foreign affairs and CIDA were doing their very best, there was an absence of leadership at the top. We hope the government has learned its lesson from this and that it will be able to implement some of the solutions it has heard here.

I implore the government to implement these solutions that I mentioned in my speech. They could save a lot of lives and it would be a niche area of capability that our country and the government could champion. At the end of the day we will save a lot of lives. I know we can do that with leadership.

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6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is the House ready for the question?

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6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

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6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Even though we will only save about three minutes, if you seek it I think you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m.