Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to speak today on behalf of the government to Bill C-12.
Local and provincial authorities handle some 90% of emergencies in Canada. Most of the time, these emergencies requires no direct involvement of the federal government but, in some cases, the Government of Canada must be ready to respond.
I will take this opportunity to commend those first responders at the local, municipal and provincial level who put their lives on the line to protect all of us in Canada and are so often the very first on the scene. When some people are running the other way to get away, they are running toward the trouble. We do want to acknowledge those first responders at this moment.
Keeping our community safe and our country secure is a priority for Canada's new government. In that regard, we have introduced a number of pieces of legislation, both in the area of justice and in public safety, to do exactly that. I should note that many members in the House, including opposition members, were elected with a mandate to take steps to provide greater public safety for all Canadians.
It is because of that mandate we received from Canadians and because of the need to keep Canadians safe, communities safe and our country secure, that this government is determined to strengthen its capacity to prepare, mitigate, respond to and recover from catastrophic events.
We have seen, unfortunately, all too often, numerous examples of those catastrophic events. They can strike at any time without warning. We need to be prepared for it.
I am speaking today to Bill C-12 because it is legislation that would create the emergency management act.
I would like to speak to how the bill addresses the need for governments from all jurisdictions to work closely together on emergency management. In particular, I want to address the relationship of the federal Government of Canada to local authorities, such as municipalities.
First, however, let me put the proposed legislation into some context. The proposed emergency management act would strengthen the foundation for the role of federal authorities emergency management to meet the evolving risks of the 21st century.
Given our country's rugged landscape and diverse climate, Canadians have always lived with the threat of natural disaster. In spring, we fight rising waters that flood our homes. In summer, we fight fires that ravage our forests. In winter, we fight storms that paralyze transportation and power systems in communities.
Today, Canadians face threats that go far beyond natural disasters. New and emerging diseases, such as avian and pandemic human influenza, may cause great harm to our families, communities and economy.
For example, by one estimate, the outbreak of SARS in 2003 cost Ontario and, in particular, the city of Toronto, and this figure is staggering, $1 billion. To say the least, we must stay vigilant to the threat of a new pandemic.
In this age of technology there are other so-called viruses that are transmitted by information technologies. Our critical infrastructure, our very ability to respond to emergencies depends on reliable computer networks. We must be better prepared to protect them from mischief or even terrorism.
I will also take this time to note that the tragic events of September 11, 2001, brought home the reality of an entirely new category of a human made threat. While terrorists did not directly target Canada on that terrible day, Canadians did die and the growing threat of global terrorism means that we must be ready for the unspeakable.
It is true that Canada does have legislation in place to respond to emergencies. The Emergency Preparedness Act outlines the roles for the Minister of Public Safety and other federal ministers. It provided for federal-provincial cooperation, which is so important, and it established the basis for post-disaster financial assistance to the provinces.
However, all of this, in light of the new reality that we face in Canada, is not enough to address the scope of risks existing for Canadians today. I outlined some of those risks already.
The proposed legislation would build a more comprehensive framework to protect our citizens, as well as that of private and public property and critical infrastructure.
I want to speak a little about the federal role. I already mentioned some of the role of local authorities, such as municipalities, but while those local authorities and municipalities are the first responder, the provinces and the Government of Canada often play an important role in coordinating a comprehensive response to emergencies.
I draw the attention of the House to the distinction between the title of the existing and the proposed legislation. In the past it was sufficient to prepare for emergencies. No longer. The proposed act recognizes that we must do much more in order to manage emergencies. The proposed emergency management act seeks to the strengthen the capacity of the Government of Canada to prevent, mitigate the impact of and respond to all hazards in our country.
It recognizes that we face an ever-changing risk environment. To manage emergencies in this context requires a collective and concerted approach involving all jurisdictions, including the private sector and non-governmental organizations or NGOs.
In an emergency, Canadians must look after there personal needs as best they can. If they need help they look toward government. In such a crisis, Canadians do not care what level of government responds, they simply want help and they want it fast.
Local governments are the first responders. Provincial and territorial governments are hard on their heels. If an emergency moves beyond their capacities, those governments turn to the Government of Canada for assistance, and we do respond.
I will give an example. Members may recall how the Government of Canada helped coordinate Canada's response during the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and again in September of that year during the severe flooding in Stephenville, Newfoundland.
In the case of Stephenville, Canada's Government Operations Centre coordinated the response of no less than eight different federal departments. This ranged from the deployment of helicopters by the Canadian Forces and the Canadian Coast Guard to the provision of 200 beds for evacuees by the Public Health Agency.
Any federal response to emergency must be harmonized with the work of other jurisdictions and stakeholders. It must respond to the real needs and expectations of our citizens. It must make the situation better, not worse. I think that is a goal we can all agree with.
The goal of emergencies management in the proposed act recognizes and promotes greater collaboration with all levels of government, as well as with NGOs, as I already mentioned, the private sector and the public at large. All of these different groups have a role to play in managing an emergency.
It is vital then that our emergency management plans accomplish two goals: to clarify the role and responsibilities of ministers within the Government of Canada, and to promote greater collaboration with other levels of government and other stakeholders. The proposed legislation would help achieve these two goals.
Specifically, through this proposed act, the Government of Canada would establish policies in respect of emergency management at the federal level. It would promote a common approach to emergency management with other jurisdictions, including shared standards and good practices.
It is worth noting that in our consultations for this bill, the provinces and territories welcomed the proposed enhancements as a way to clarify roles and responsibilities, and that is so important.
I want to talk a bit about existing ties with municipalities. This bill would enhance the Government of Canada's relationship with local governments, such as municipalities, in emergency management.
The relationship between the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories too often overshadows our relationship with local government. Allow me to elaborate on how we work with local government and how the proposed legislation would enhance that work and enhance collaboration.
The Government of Canada recognizes that municipalities are an integral part of any emergency response. Local police, firefighters and paramedics are always first on the scene. I already commended them at the start of my speech on the role they play in keeping all Canadians safe.
To support the role of first responders, the Government of Canada established the joint emergency preparedness program, JEPP. Through this program the Government of Canada works with the provinces and territories to help municipalities improve their ability to respond to an emergency.
Funds are available for items such as generators, communications equipment and emergency vehicles. When appropriate, the Government of Canada has been pursuing co-location agreements where all three levels of government coordinate their approach to emergency management. To that end, we have already set up joint emergency operation centres in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories.
The Canadian Cyber Institute Response Centre has set up a framework for cooperation with provincial, territorial and municipal governments. A cyber triage unit has been established to assess the nature of incidents and to coordinate responses more effectively.
The goal of these initiatives is to enhance information sharing to keep everyone in the loop so that we can respond to an emergency in a coherent fashion.
The proposed emergency management act reinforces that this kind of seamless cooperation is vital. It would help to ensure the federal response to an emergency is harmonized and coordinated with other jurisdictions, and as I noted earlier, it would also lay the foundation for a comprehensive emergency management system that recognizes the key elements of mitigation, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.
I want to talk a bit about building ties within communities and in a community. The Government of Canada wants to work with the provinces and municipalities and other entities to help develop consensus on emergency management. This bill recognizes that a common approach to emergency management can enhance effectiveness, not just within all levels of government, but also in the community at large.
Since the nature of emergencies is constantly in flux, the proposed legislation does not attempt to define what constitutes an emergency management activity. The bill in this way is broad and flexible in its approach, leaving room for innovation and the building of community consensus. Indeed, the Government of Canada relies on the expertise, experience and creativity of Canadian citizens to help strengthen its approach to emergency management.
Over the past few years, the Government of Canada has held town hall meetings to solicit ideas on various initiatives. The Government of Canada drew on the valuable input from the private sector and from other stakeholders at these meetings to enhance Bill C-12, and we will continue to engage Canadians on these issues.
It is important that the Government of Canada collaborate with the provinces and territories, private sector owners and operators and the NGO community to strengthen critical infrastructure. It is especially important as the private sector owns and operates over 85% of Canada's critical infrastructure.
When we look at that figure, it is especially clear that this is a multi-jurisdictional approach and it has to involve the private sector. No single jurisdiction has the expertise or the human and financial resources to manage the kinds of emergencies we may face in the 21st century. We know those emergencies can be varied. They can come at any time and the emphasis here is on being ready to manage those emergencies.
We need to work together. We need to develop coherent strategies that will enable us to harmonize our approaches. The proposed legislation provides the framework to achieve this goal.
As I already mentioned, the threats to Canadians continue to evolve and we must evolve with them. Canada's new government is committed to ensuring that it is able to manage these threats and respond to them to the best of its ability. Bill C-12 is a vital piece of legislation that would strengthen the federal role in emergency management and enhance our ability to cooperate with other jurisdictions, including municipalities.
By reinforcing an all hazards approach to emergency management, the proposed legislation will contribute to the safety and the security of all Canadians. In speaking with Canadians and hearing from Canadians from coast to coast, safety and security is a major priority for them. That is why I am pleased that our Minister of Public Safety has been working tirelessly in this regard to promote safety for Canadians. He has brought forward a number of initiatives, including this one, that will make our streets and our communities safer. I have to take this opportunity as well to commend the Minister of Justice for his work on making our communities safer.
Working together in the areas of justice and public safety, we can make communities safer in all regards, whether that be in the criminal sphere or in the sphere of preventing crime in the sphere of managing emergencies and being prepared for emergencies.
That is why I am very pleased on behalf of my constituents to speak to Bill C-12. I urge all members of the House to join with me in support of the proposed emergencies management act.