Good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members. Thank you for inviting us here today.
I am accompanied today by Lyse Langevin, Director General of the Community Infrastructure Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I am here today to provide information on this year's wildfires affecting first nations communities, emergency management on reserve, and on-reserve fire protection. I will also talk on our department's work on partnering with first nations and supporting their efforts to advance community resiliency.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Canada is committed to partnering with indigenous people in building resilient communities. It is really through this partnership that we action our shared priority of ensuring the health and safety of first nation residents. A critical component in ensuring the achievement of our shared priorities is departmental support of indigenous communities to effectively respond to and recover from emergency events, such as the wildfires that occurred this year.
As with any community in Canada, the responsibility for emergency management on reserve starts with the first nation communities themselves as the first level of response. When an emergency event exceeds the capacity or capabilities of the communities, they seek assistance from the provincial or territorial government, and if necessary, from the federal government.
Currently, the department supports first nation communities during emergency events through the emergency assistance program. This is a program that supports the four pillars of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.
For response to emergencies, the emergency management assistance program reimburses first nations, municipalities, provinces, and territories, as well as third party emergency management service providers, up to 100% of eligible response and recovery costs, including costs of evacuations. Eligibility is determined according to the program's terms and conditions.
In recent years, events such as wildfires and floods are increasing in frequency, severity, and magnitude. This is a global trend, but this trend is also true in Canada. These events can result and have resulted in severe social, environmental, and economic consequences for both indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike. However, due to their relative remoteness and isolation in fire-prone areas, many first nation communities are more vulnerable to emergency events and the vulnerability can be exacerbated by remoteness or access to services during emergency events.
Thus, despite making up less than 1% of Canada's total population, one-third of wildfire evacuations over the last three decades in Canada have involved on-reserve indigenous communities. This year, 2017, has seen highly significant wildfires in four provinces affecting indigenous communities, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. During this period, first nations experienced the largest ever number of wildfire emergencies, 49 in total, resulting in their second largest ever number of evacuees. We're looking at over 12,800 people evacuated from first nations.
Alberta saw almost 500 evacuees as a result of wildfires in the southern part of the province. Statistically, this year, British Columbia experienced the largest ever provincial state of emergency. They experienced a record-breaking burnt land mass and approximately 3,200 first nation community residents were evacuated. In Manitoba this year, close to 7,000 remote indigenous community residents were evacuated and in the case of Wasagamack First Nation, community members resorted to using locally owned boats due to the immediacy of the wildfire threat. I'd like to emphasize that this was an extremely high-risk evacuation for the residents and demonstrates how quickly an emergency event can evolve and impact communities. Finally, in northern Saskatchewan, close to 2,300 indigenous community residents were evacuated from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.
Overall for 2017, the estimated departmental response costs to support first nations communities in emergency events have been identified at just over $34 million.
During the immediate response phase of an emergency event, communities leverage existing service delivery capabilities within first nations, municipalities, provinces, territories and third party emergency management service providers such as the Canadian Red Cross.
Access to the services beyond the first nations capacity is secured through comprehensive emergency management service agreements between the department and the provinces or territories. Five such agreements are currently in place, and where an agreement is not yet in place, historical arrangements are in place, or other mechanisms to ensure a comparable level of service to those offered elsewhere in the province or territory.
However, the service agreements formally ensure that first nation communities have access to comparable emergency assistance services to those provided to neighbouring communities and non-indigenous communities.
In the spirit of partnership, the new agreements are being negotiated with the full participation of regional indigenous organizations. In the recovery phase of an emergency event, the department supports the repair or restoration of critical infrastructure on reserve to a pre-disaster condition to allow evacuees to return home. With the increase in wild land fire activity and increasingly strained fire suppression efforts, ensuring sustainable community recovery is becoming more and more critical.
In recognition of this, the department is also focusing efforts on the mitigation and preparedness pillars of emergency management. For preparedness and mitigation efforts, the department, in partnership with first nations, invested approximately $12.5 million in non-structural emergency mitigation and preparedness projects. These first nations community-led projects enhance capacity, placing emphasis on indigenous knowledge and practices. For example, since 2015 the department has funded regional partners to a total of $6.9 million to support FireSmart projects in indigenous communities.
To support the protection of first nation communities from the threat of wildfires, the department provides $16.5 million to provinces and territories annually under the emergency management assistance program for wildfire management agreements. Services provided in these agreements range from prevention to pre-suppression to suppression costs.
In addition to wildfires, community fire protection is an essential service that can make the difference between life and death for community residents.
First nations manage fire protection services on reserve. Community officials make the decisions regarding fire protection services under the annual core capital funding they receive from the department. To this end, first nations may establish their own fire departments or contract fire protection services from nearby communities.
Since 2008-2009, the department has provided almost 27 million dollars per year for capital investments, operating and maintenance costs, as well as firefighting training.
The department also funds the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada to support them in coordinating a number of fire prevention awareness and training activities, and advising on implementation of our joint first nations fire protection strategy. This strategy promotes initiatives that focus on fire prevention in order to support indigenous communities in reducing the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries, as well as losses to critical infrastructure.
The department is also committed to the creation of an indigenous fire marshal office. This would provide support to indigenous communities in their efforts to improve life safety and protection of residents, property, and environment. It would also support the development of appropriate indigenous fire services and relevant programs and services. We will continue to work in full co-operation with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association and other key partners on these and other critical elements that we know are needed to enhance fire safety for first nation communities across Canada.
The Government of Canada recognizes that a greater focus on fire prevention is absolutely critical to keeping people and communities safe from fire. This is not just about raising awareness of the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety, but also increased investments in first nation housing to help make homes on reserve meet applicable building codes and regulations.
I'll conclude by emphasizing that the department remains absolutely committed to partnering with indigenous organizations and communities in ensuring the health, safety, and resilience of their communities.
Finally, we will continue to work with them and other partners to ensure that indigenous communities receive comparable services to those of non-indigenous communities in Canada.
Thank you for your time. Merci.
Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members. I'm really pleased to be here.
As you are aware, the Department of Indigenous Services has a lead role in working with the provinces and territories regarding emergency management to ensure first nations communities receive necessary response and recovery services.
Following events like the series of forest fires this summer in British Columbia, we conduct a review of the measures taken to fight forest fires in 2017. Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada does this exercise in partnership with other departments such as Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The main observations become lessons learned, and are applied to future incidents.
During the 2017 wildfire response within the federal government, we were able to build a common understanding of the situation, which allowed for effective coordination of federal efforts.
Each year, in consultation with partners such as Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada, the GOC conducts comprehensive planning processes to increase federal preparedness to support the provinces, territories and first nations for potential wildfire events in Canada.
The Government Operations Centre is an interdepartmental organization that supports the minister in his leadership and coordination role in emergency measures. The purpose of its interventions is to direct and support the coordination of the federal response to events affecting the national interest.
As we do after each fire season, a review of the response to the 2017 wildfires will be conducted to improve the emergency management regime and identify preventive measures that can be undertaken ahead of future fires.
While there was excellent federal and provincial collaboration and efficient information sharing at all levels, including the Canadian Red Cross, there were gaps with the level of support to and inclusion of first nations communities in the coordination of firefighting operations. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Public Safety Canada will continue to support a collaborative approach to strengthening indigenous emergency management and is pleased to be part of any discussions with first nations indigenous services and the province, given the many linkages to on- and off-reserve emergency and hazard management.
Ensuring that indigenous communities are resilient communities is a key aspect of our work. As such, in the context of the development of an emergency management strategy for Canada, we are working to develop and establish an inventory of emergency management plans and capabilities in indigenous communities.
Since May 2016, Public Safety Canada has led a collaborative approach with federal, provincial, territorial, and indigenous partners to strengthen indigenous emergency management. This approach, based on increased engagement, has been undertaken with the key principles of co-developing solutions to indigenous emergency management that are sustainable, inclusive, and culturally sensitive.
Most recently, on May 25, 2017, FPT ministers responsible for emergency management met with representatives from national indigenous organizations to discuss next steps in support of indigenous emergency management. More specifically, FPT ministers and NIO, national indigenous organization, representatives committed to developing an inventory of risks facing indigenous communities and to identifying emergency plans and capacities to address these risks.
To deliver on this commitment, Public Safety Canada has established an FPT indigenous emergency management working group comprised of representatives from provinces, territories, and NIOs. Under this working group the following progress is under way.
The Assembly of First Nations, along with the Government of Ontario as provincial co-chair of the FPT indigenous emergency management working group, are working with Public Safety to co-develop a culturally respectful methodology to collect data on emergency management plans and capabilities across indigenous communities.
Indigenous Services has confirmed support for this initiative and will work with us to gather existing data, for instance first nations emergency management plans, through Indigenous Services regional offices.
Engagement activities are under way with NIOs, such as participation at the AFN's second annual emergency management forum to enable engagement on key initiatives.
Finally, efforts are under way to host northern workshops in partnership with ITK, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and territories to address the unique challenges in northern and remote communities.
In addition, national indigenous organizations have been invited to meet with federal, provincial and territorial senior officials responsible for emergency management on a regular basis to provide insight and perspective on the challenges and solutions. The next meeting of FPT senior officials responsible for emergency management is scheduled for November 15 in Regina. This meeting will be an opportunity to finalize the project charter and reach agreement on timelines for the inventory, and also on capacity.
Public Safety Canada in partnership with Indigenous Services is collaborating with NIOs to also establish a series of workshops to seek specific views on emergency management initiatives and to involve them in the development of an emergency management strategy for Canada.
Public Safety Canada is pursuing its cooperation on all fronts to meet strategic objectives and develop an approach based on principles and elaborate a strategy jointly with indigenous groups.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for the question.
There is a formal process that is under way in terms of gathering lessons learned because it's still fairly recent. If I speak about B.C., there's a formal process under way. There have been workshops. Just next week, there are going to be two meetings with first nation communities in British Columbia to gather comments. The idea is really to gather lessons learned from what worked well during the fire season and what didn't work so well and putting those issues that didn't work well on the track to resolution.
As to the lessons learned, I'll refer to what I think is one of the main lessons learned. We have this emergency management agreement with the Province of B.C. It's a 10-year agreement that was signed in April 2017. The ink was barely dry on that when the provincial government went into election. A new government came in. We went into flooding season and then right after on the heels of that into fire season.
The plan with respect to this agreement is to have a high staffing component, up to 26 people, and a large hiring of first nation individuals so that we're working with communities up front of emergencies to do some emergency management planning. This is each community identifying risk to their community and having plans with respect to those risks and having plans to plug and play into the provincial system.
One of the lessons learned is we didn't fully get to implement that; it's a work in progress, but we need to do that hand in hand with first nations leadership. Out in B.C., there's the First Nations Leadership Council. We need to create governance around this emergency management agreement so that the lessons learned out of the formal process, which is starting now and will go into January, and the recommendations stemming from those lessons learned, go to a governance council comprised of first nations leadership, the provincial government and federal government departments.
Everyone there can take away what is their responsibility to put on the track to resolution. Sometimes it will be a shared responsibility, but we need to have a real plan for addressing those things that come up from on the ground.
That, technically, concludes our hour. I'm going to ask the committee to allow a bit of discretion for the chair to ask some questions. I understand that this has been done in other committees. Given that Manitoba faced one of the worst fire evacuations in recent history, I would ask your indulgence to ask a couple of questions.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you. I'll try to make it quick. I'll be done within 60 minutes.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Chair: From what I hear, the situation in Manitoba was dramatically different from the situation in British Columbia, which was wholesome. Yes, there were glitches, but overall there was co-operation and respect for culture, and people were through that emergency in relatively good shape. Unfortunately, the situation in Manitoba was not the same. It was dire. It was extremely stressful. People were lost. Six thousand people were evacuated, most airlifted. There were delays. Some would argue that life was in jeopardy. There was massive confusion from the chiefs not knowing whom to approach.
The situation was so dramatically different that I would like some.... Is that because, in this circumstance, Manitoba didn't have an emergency plan? I'm sure you are aware that the chiefs were marching on the legislature, calling for the province to declare a state of emergency, when actually they should have been contacting Indigenous Services.
Can you put it in some context? Why was there such disarray this year for the fire evacuees?
These are recent investments. In the last few years, we've been investing significantly in terms of mitigation and preparedness per se.
That came out of an Auditor General report. They noted that we had spent $4 million over four years on mitigation, whereas the cost of our response and recovery was, at the time, on average, $30 million. This year, we're up to $100 million in response and recovery cost alone; last year, $80 million; and the year before that, $80 million. That response and recovery cost is significant, so we have been investing more. We've spent $30 million over three years, in terms of mitigation, just on the non-structural and preparedness type of measures, not including what we're doing with the provinces, which is an additional $19 million for emergency management service agreements, so that's something.
There are also investments being made through budget 2016 on structural mitigation in communities. There was $40 million in the previous budget; 2014, $40 million over five years; and in budget 2016, an additional $25 million over two years.
That said, we can always invest more in mitigation. The important thing is to identify the risk and seek to mitigate it, to try to reduce the risk of disasters occurring. In the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
We mentioned the DFAA program, for instance, in the case of the B.C. wildfires, so there's a process. In the case of B.C., the B.C. government requested an advance payment of $100 million. There's been a letter sent to the triggering a request under DFAA to get access to an advance payment.
We need to declare the event, and have an OIC, and there are many steps, but ultimately we can provide an advance payment to the province. We're not giving assistance directly to the municipalities, but we're providing assistance to the province. Down the road we will keep working with B.C. to see what was the total cost of the B.C. wildfires. They are going to submit other claims. What we heard, just in terms of firefighting operations, was that the cost was close to $500 million. They will submit an additional request to get DFAA assistance in terms of dollars.
What DFAA includes in terms of eligible expenses, we can provide that information to the committee. You will see what the province can submit in terms of expenses. That includes some of the costs you mentioned also under the agriculture cost share agreements we have between the federal government and provinces. In the case of B.C., there was $20 million announced to support farmers who have been losing revenues, based on some of the risk programs embedded into the federal-provincial agreement. Under DFAA some of that is applicable.
The provinces can submit any losses, the cost of their firefighting operations, and even more than that. We can provide a long list of eligible expenses.
B.C. will be compensated. Above and beyond the threshold, when the costs are greater than the provinces can bear, the federal government will be there to support them. The support in terms of DFAA is post-event. It's happening afterwards, but there is also the cost of conducting all the operations, for example, the Canadian Armed Forces deploying some assets. This is some of the cost the federal government will have to absorb as well.
The federal government is a good partner when it comes to that, but the province also has to be there. When it comes to tourism and other losses of revenue, it will have to do its part as well.