I’m sure a lot of well-meaning bureaucrats sit down together at regular intervals to talk and produce thousands of pages of verbiage littered with phrases like “will work toward”, and “committed to” (my personal favourite), none of it helping to prepare for a real-time, large disaster. Look at the pandemic plan produced after SARS. I believe it was languishing on a shelf somewhere when Covid arrived, and was never looked at, let alone implemented. Look at the inventory of N95 masks that was allowed to expire. Look at the unbelievable clusterf**k that passed for interdepartmental and intergovernmental communication during the convoy “crisis”. I have absolutely NO faith that with our bloated bureaucracy, where no one can make a decision without passing the problem around until they don’t have to think about it anymore, and the stunning priorities of our government, where every decision has to be passed through the eye of the political expediency needle, we could handle a really bad disaster. Nope. I think we’re on our own folks.
Municipalities - Allowing developers to build on flood plains (Brandon Manitoba) or a subdivision with only one road going in and out (Halifax NS)
Provinces - Not maintaining roads and bridges
Feds - Not having a national inventory (that is actually maintained) of assets to support Provinces and Territories.
Finally that the Feds shut down the Chilliwack Base (at the head of the Fraser Valley) which held a bulk of the Army's Combat Engineering equipment shows that it is totally unprepared for a major seismic event in the lower mainland. And no, the RCN in Esquimalt nor the RCAF in Comox will be able to help much.
And now you know why - while Public Safety Canada sat on its ass - the CRTC created a national emergency alert system by enlisting Pelmorex to set it up.
The FPT system for disaster and emergency response is not broken in Canada, in fact it operates exceptionally well. Like all public sector areas, it does suffer from some investment in capacity, but capability is not in question. The provinces are the lead government level and have been since the Cold War days and the transition from civil defence. Whether at Public Safety Canada or elsewhere in the Federal Government, there is no resident skill, knowledge, training or leadership not present in the province's EM organizations. When federal assets are deployed in support of a provincial request they are subordinated to the province. It works well, very well.
There will always be a gap between the population's expectation and reality in response operations, the fire response across Canada facilitated by cross-FPT cooperation and CIFFC has been exemplary. The fires were fought well and will continue to be until the winter. This statistical anomaly of wildfire season is the coming home to roost of societal decisions - human decisions as to how we manage our forests and how we choose to locate and construct our housing. No number of firefighters or government bureaucrats would change that outcome.
The governance is a web of agreements, some grounded in tactical and operational implementation and others serving the "govt" speak - collaboration, stakeholder engagement, blah, blah and blah.
2023 has proven that provinces are quite capable of managing emergencies and that the federal government has an important supporting role to provide specific capability assets and funding under the DFAA.
I don't know, I didn't feel particularly put off by this, or even viewed the response letter as a complete non-response as Jen did. I think the feds are saying "we don't do top-down nationwide planning the way FEMA does in the US; therefore, how much backup stuff / evacuation capacity / granular planning efforts are really disaster (read as: provincial level) dependent." Which might be vaguely unsatisfying, but that's Canadian federalism for you, and alas, yes, it does mean that a disaster in Whitehorse will be a poor man's shambles compared to a disaster in oil-rich Alberta. And it also means that, for any given disaster response, availability of materiel, manpower, etc. will be bespoke and hard to predict ahead of time.
It would be interesting to request and get detailed information on the scenario runs like the BC coastal earthquake that were described, however - that should have granular information that would be a good window into the level at which war-room scenario description and analysis takes place.
Disaster response plans for any level of government consists of carefully worded pre planned memos, blaming other levels of government. This is Canada, after all.
Imagine in your wildest dreams a government plan that has concrete goals and objectives and a timeline for action. Never going to happen because that would bring about actual measurement of performance and a level of accountability that governments and their bureaucracies are simply not comfortable with. I do truly think if a government did such a thing and reported both successes and failures honestly that they might actually be rewarded by voters.
One of the biggest laughs of the Trudeau regime is the ‘Deliverology’ training they received early in their first term.
It would appear that nobody who was involved in writing that memo actually understands what goals are - specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.
Fail-fail-fail-fail-fail on the part of the federal government.
I'm not at all surprised and I do share some of your unease as a resident of a large city and knowing that it would be every man for himself if something disastrous happened. (I'm a woman but the expression still stands.)
I am not at all reassured by the Feb 2023 exercise in BC - it looks like it was planned from 2020 thru 2023 if I read correctly? So it took them 4 years to plan an exercise that is realistically not an event that would ever impact most of Canada - whereas fires, flooding, wind storms, those are pretty universal catastrophes that could impact anywhere in the country. Why choose a niche disaster when you could choose one where maybe lessons learned might actually be applicable across the entire country? And if it takes 4 years to plan, we can expect the next one in 2027? (Notice there was no mention of a 2024 location/topic? At least not in the quoted text.)
The country is run by a bunch of unserious people. And worst of all, their lack of seriousness has led to many federal civil servant positions being filled by equally unserious people. Even if we had a new government intent on changing the current sad state of affairs, they would be having to deal with the same unqualified civil servants who are settled in for a pension and won't lose their job no matter how poorly they perform.
Canadians should demand more - but I somehow just don't see that happening for a good long time. Most people only care about these things when they're personally impacted and the rest of the time they go along with the fluffy ideals. People die because of electric cars stranded on the highway during an evacuation? Yes - we'd hear about that. But pre-emptively preventing that from happening? The government is much more worried about the optics and ideals than the realities that face Canadians. (I'm not sure that municipal politics is any better in large cities. I know my city council is certainly a bunch of clowns who can't even properly fund the police to give them a chance at dealing with the ever growing crime.)
I served in emergency preparedness roles in the CAF for many years. I left the service in 2021, at which point things were getting a little ragged around the edges. In my experience the worst distraction from achieving emergency management plans or desired outcomes was an increasing lack of focus and unwillingness to properly fund regional and national exercises on the part of both federal and provincial governments. Nobody likes to pay their insurance premiums, in emergency management terms this means time, effort and real financial investments. Requests for tHese types of foundational investments were not often supported financially or with the required personnel to effect required improvements or exercise paper plans. I used think that it would only take one large disaster to change this attitude but nothing ever seems to change, same ad-hockery every single time…..
When it comes to disaster response, the closer the decision makers and all the tools needed (including human resources) are to the action, the better the results.
Allow me to share a heart warming story:
You all know about the Semi-Mini Bus crash at Carberry Manitoba just a few weeks ago. The worst casualty count in a motor vehicle accident in Manitoba history. The EMS response, including fire departments is pretty incredible, and we have to remember that some of the first responders are volunteers. Multiple fire halls and EMS stations coordinated efforts with 5 hospitals to handle the surge of seriously wounded people and to clean up the mess. And I want to spare some words of thanks to these people and hope they are doing OK. They saw things that day that they will never forget.
I realize that this has drifted off course from Ms. Gerson’s musings about the federal government. All the same, my point is that if the people on the ground are inadequately trained and starved for resources then we are beat before we start. I am quite happy for the feds to forward $$$ to invest in infrastructure everywhere so that people are ready for a calamity regardless of its nature.
Interesting that your column doesn't mention the Minister for Emergency Preparedness, Harjit Sajjan, not even once. Nor his Department.
References are to Pubic Safety Canada. The Minister is Dominic Leblanc (surely a part-time job, given his other responsibilities). Is Minister Sajjan a junior Minister in the same Department? Or is there a separate Department? If not, why not?
I'm confused. Who is accountable for what?
Brilliant column. Articulates a perfect example of Trudeau's amateur practice of surrounding himself with feel-good bobbleheads like Mendicino, Joly and Hussein, to name a few.
Gerson's closing comment nails the reason Trudeau is a National Emergency himself.
You are dangerously close to describing the need for mobilization planning and stockpiling. A concept that was jettisoned almost six decades ago. Although mobilization was intended to respond to a war scenario it fits nicely into the response to any large scale disaster because of its built in capacity. Of course that would require pretty significant money outlay and the ability to commandeer transport , medical personnel etc. our response to Covid and the Freedom Convoy highlights how impossibly unprepared we are for real emergencies and how unserious our govts are. It’s incredible that even commandeering tow trucks presented major problems.
:) Great article. Puts rather clearly how this government seems to avoid answering any serious (hard) question with a bunch of words that say nothing. Do they hope we get bored part way through and say well they tried.
Thanks Jen for another interesting read .
Gobble-dee-gook goes a long way in offices. Probably means diddlee squat in real life.
Canada needs its own FIMA. Having covered multiple national disasters in the US I am always struck by how quickly those lines of trucks and support form and head for a disaster zone from multiple States. It takes only hours, co-ordinated by an always on federal agency who knows where everyone has stuff at any given moment. The help-is-coming convoys on highways are always impressive.