Mr. Speaker, I do apologize. It was my anxiousness to acknowledge the minister's previous experience.
The minister knows very well that viruses and new diseases do not recognize borders. So the concept of when a federal government decides it is in the best interests of Canadians to enter into a provincial emergency is going to continue to be a difficult one for everybody.
On the other hand, as we saw with SARS and some other viruses, they moved quickly across the country. We were not able to keep up with them, to get ahead of them, or even to recognize any trend of what is happening.
For me it raises one of the other issues around trends particularly in health emergency situations. Because there is no mandatory reporting on the part of the provinces to the federal government or to the health ministry if they see something happening, if they see a virus, it makes it even more difficult for us to see trends occurring across the country. That causes me some concern. The federal government might not even be able to see whether or not it is in its interest because a provincial government is not mandated to report if something is occurring in that province. That causes me some concern in terms of the federal government's ability to make an informed decision.
Some education is needed in this country regarding emergency preparedness. I do not think most people know who is responsible for emergency preparedness, whom they could count on and for what.
When my children first started school, they came home one day and told me that they had a drill. I asked them if all the children had managed to get out on time. They said that they did not leave the school that they went under their desks. In British Columbia not only do we have fire drills but we also have earthquake drills. Many of us have earthquake preparation kits in our homes and in our cars. This is very different from many other parts of the country, except for Quebec and Yukon where there are earthquake risks.
What is becoming of more concern to people is who does what, when, with whom, and under what circumstances. If this bill passes, there is a responsibility on the part of the federal government, and provincial and municipal governments as well because they have their own regulations, to ensure that citizens have this information so they can feel safe. It is frightening enough to be faced with any kind of emergency, be it a climatic one or an armed conflict. It is frightening not to have any idea whatsoever as to who takes responsibility and for what. I hope committee members will take into consideration the publication of this kind of information.
In the first few hours of an incident it is important that one person be seen as taking a leadership role. It is important that one person be responsible for ensuring that all the things that are supposed to happen do happen. Responsibility should not be spread out among a variety of people. There must be one place of accountability.
The bill states, “The minister is responsible for exercising leadership relating to emergency management in Canada by coordinating, among government institutions and in cooperation with the provinces and other entities, emergency management activities”. When the committee considers the bill, I would ask it to consider two things: one, to write shorter sentences so we do not have to take a breath in the middle; and second, to make clear that the responsibility for acting would be in the hands of one minister and one minister only.
The concern about access to information has already been raised by some members. Some people feel that this concern has been answered. This bill would amend the Access to Information Act ostensibly to provide for protection of information provided by third parties which, if disclosed, might pose a security threat. I hope the committee will examine this in greater detail to see if there are any issues which may adversely affect the privacy rights of Canadians. I understand in an emergency many things have to be done, but the committee has to look a little more closely at whether this would adversely affect the privacy rights of Canadians out of proportion to what might be necessary in a particular emergency.
Several people have asked for clarity as it pertains to foreign affairs, armed conflict and so on. I think my colleague here has asked that question on two occasions. I do know that the summary states:
This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.
What people are raising is a provision of clarity that these regulations only apply in terms of things that happen, not just affect people living on Canadian soil but happen on Canadian soil. If I understand my colleague's question correctly, that is the kind of clarity that he would like to see.
I will wrap up my comments by saying that there are still a number of issues to look at when the bill goes to committee. I understand the intent of the bill. Every Canadian wants there to be in place an emergency piece of legislation where they know people will leap into action to do everything they can to make them safe.
Hurricane Katrina was a perfect example of what we should not do. People were left stranded everywhere with certain people being attended to first before people with fewer resources. We saw some very damaging ways of responding to an emergency during hurricane Katrina. I believe we will have learned those kinds of lessons. I would not of course believe that Canadians would respond to people in an emergency situation in any different way based on their current circumstances, economic, social or otherwise.
I look forward to hearing the results of the debate at committee.