As the heaviest rains in 50 years continue to fall across a big swath of eastern Canada, the federal government is working in close collaboration with provinces and municipalities to ensure a seamless effective response.
Priority Number One is keeping people safe, while striving also to protect homes, property and communities.
The first line of authority and responsibility is the jurisdiction of provincial governments and their municipalities. They each have well qualified emergency management organizations, and they decide whether they are able to handle any given disaster on their own, or whether/when they need federal or inter-provincial assistance.
If a province believes they cannot properly cope within their own resources, they call the federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to make an official request for federal assistance. Through the Government Operations Centre (GOC) in my department, we will have been monitoring the emergency as it has evolved, and we typically respond within minutes. The GOC provides overall coordination going forward. Depending on the nature of the disaster, the province may or may not ask for the services of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
In the current flooding situation, CAF personnel have been deployed across southern Quebec, at the request of the provincial government, to assist local civilian authorities to cope with the deluge. Some 450 troops arrived Saturday in the areas around Gatineau, Rigaud, Montreal and Trois-Rivieres. Their numbers tripled through this past weekend and now stand at 1500. Various marine vessels, a dozen helicopters and a Hercules transport are on standby as needed.
On Sunday, Ontario, too, asked for federal assistance. They have not requested a CAF deployment, but they do need help in getting sufficient supplies of essential things like sandbags. So far, we have tracked down a quarter-of-a-million extra sandbags for Ontario, thanks to supplies stored by the CAF.
No other province has requested federal assistance at this stage, but we are on alert to respond quickly if circumstances change.
We are carefully watching events in New Brunswick, the Gaspé and along the North Shore of the St. Lawrence where the weather systems appear to be moving. There are also dangerous water conditions in the interior of British Columbia.
When the CAF deploy, Regular Forces and Reserves bring a great deal of logistical and planning expertise to help coordinate and sequence emergency relief efforts to the best effect. They also provide transportation and communications assistance, land and maritime patrols, search and rescue capabilities, engineering and construction know-how and labour to build dikes or sandbag structures, equipment maintenance and repair, surveillance over critical infrastructure, assistance to the Red Cross, and much more.
Canada’s military works in close collaboration with provincial and municipal authorities. When they arrive on the scene, the spirit and energy of CAF personnel bring reassurance to weary populations in jeopardy.
In addition to GOC and CAF, federal engagement also includes making key assets available for emergency purposes. The Canada Border Services Agency, for example, has offered its training centre in Rigaud if needed to house evacuees.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is providing weather and water flow forecasting, along with scientific expertise for the effective management of reservoirs.
Natural Resources Canada brings geomatic services and satellite imagery to expand our knowledge of the full scope of the situations to be tackled.
Transport Canada provides air surveillance, and issues instructions to ships using the Saint Lawrence Seaway to avoid waterway activity that could further damage the shoreline.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada will work with all telecommunications providers to ensure reliable services are maintained.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with the Red Cross to accumulate stockpiles of supplies needed to meet the human needs of those driven from their homes.
Global Affairs Canada is closely in touch with the United States and with common agencies like the International Joint Commission which have key interests in cross-border water flows and their implications.
This is an All-of-Canada approach to maximize the support we can all offer together to other Canadians in distress – just as we did exactly one year ago when a beast of a wildfire was ravaging Fort McMurray in Alberta.