Mr. Speaker, Canada is at risk of significant climatic dangers, including floods, hail storms, ice storms, tornados, wind storms and geological hazards, such as earthquakes and related fires. The 1998 ice storm cost $5.4 billion, and the 1996 Saguenay flood cost $1.7 billion. However, these claims pale in comparison to the losses that could result from a major earthquake and related fires in British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec. The potential economic damage from a major seismic event in British Columbia alone is estimated at $30 billion.
Despite the potential loss of human life, damage to businesses and communities and the enormous economic losses, the Minister of Public Safety refused to answer any of my written questions regarding disaster preparedness, response, recovery and resilience, which are clearly issues of fundamental importance to the health and safety of Canadians.
Canadians will remember the most expensive natural disaster in our history, when an astounding 80 hours of freezing rain coated Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The 1998 ice storm downed 130 power transmission towers and 30,000 utility poles. Over four million Canadians lost power, and 600,000 were forced to leave their homes.
This past July, I was honoured to be appointed as one of a handful of parliamentary champions from around the world by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. In September I submitted two detailed written questions to the government focusing on disasters in Canada and our liabilities as taxpayers, as Canada has real risk. For drought, almost 620,000 are at risk. For flooding, it is almost 50,000. For earthquake, it is 34,000. For a tsunami, 165,000 are at risk.
I asked the minister questions on specifically where Canada was lacking in terms of disaster preparedness, response and recovery and what would be needed in terms of funding, human resources and operational requirements going forward. However, instead of answering either of my two written questions, the minister provided two-sentence responses explaining that my questions required “extensive manual research and analysis”. This is simply not good enough when the issue is a matter of public safety and it is within the minister's purview.
When I later questioned the minister in the House regarding his refusal to answer my written questions, the minister simply ducked, saying it would cost the taxpayer in excess of $1,300 just to examine whether an answer was possible. What would be the price tag of an under-prepared government facing the next disaster?
Is this new government policy to cost out each written question before answering, or was this a deliberate attempt by a government to avoid answering questions for which it largely has no answers?
As the leader of our party said, “So you have to ask yourself the question if it costs so much to get that information, that means they don't have it. And if they don't have it, there's a real problem”.
As disappointing as it is that the minister chooses not to meet his own government's accountability guidelines, it is absolutely objectionable that he refuses to answer questions of profound significance to Canadians, particularly those living in disaster-prone areas.
Disasters do not have to happen. It is the job of the minister not to duck questions but to give Canadians real information and to ensure that Canada is a disaster-resilient nation and that we can all take action to reduce our risk.