Where Canada shines, and where it could do better

It’s a sad reflection of both our country and our cities that, when disaster strikes, Canadian citizens turn to their local emergency management system and the federal government for relief and answers.

Sadly, that’s not much of a surprise in our modern world.

Aid from the federal government has, for the most part, been overshadowed by the simultaneous disasters of economic crises and wars in its regions.

With that reality we welcome former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who will take over in September as the federal cabinet’s point man for disaster response, as a force for change.

The delays and poor planning by the governments of Canada and Ontario in the handling of Toronto’s citywide ice storm last winter should be stark reminders to all Canadian citizens that their safety needs to be the first concern.

And as Canadians come to terms with some tough domestic issues, we have to look to the struggling federal government to lead the way on this.

A similar situation occurred in British Columbia in 2011, when oil spills killed millions of birds and spread toxic amounts of diesel oil onto nearly every lake, river and creek in the province.

Canadian fishermen and policy makers seemed determined to ignore the situation, but the Canadian government sent in navy ships and aircraft to help with clean-up efforts.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced recently that the federal government would spend C$30 million to help with clean-up efforts in Saskatchewan after the duck flu epidemic, while a C$60 million grant is helping with Saskatchewan’s response efforts to the Alberta wildfires.

But it’s the smaller emergency response measures that require our attention, the far-away dramas that must be defused before they turn into immense human tragedies.

As Canadians, we often take for granted our health care, an aspect of our society that should not be under-appreciated but under-utilized.

But when it comes to handling an emergency, Canadian government agencies should learn the value of quick, flexible and skilled responses.

Let’s hope that Bill Blair, as our new disaster coordinator, won’t simply repeat the mistakes of the past.

To all of our federal emergency response agencies out there, if a big crisis happens in your province or province’s capital, you need to know where it is and how it’s being dealt with.

You need to know how your roads are being protected.

You need to know how your water intake and drinking supplies are being kept up.

If a fire gets out of control and moves into your community, you need to know where your local fire fighters are located.

You need to know how your hospitals are being cared for and how medical facilities in the city and region are coping with a sudden influx of hospital patients.

You need to know what steps your local officials are taking to ensure that people aren’t stuck out in the cold in their cars after the worst storm in memory.

You need to know how local officials are communicating with your military, police and border services to ensure that you’re rescued and the roads are clear before it’s too late.

You also need to know how fast help is coming and the response speed is being adjusted.

As Canadians, we can and should lead the way in disaster response when a crisis occurs, and we can be proud that we can and should be trusted to lead when the storm strikes.

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