Tories warned about cuts to funding criplling rescues

The Harper government was warned cutting federal funding would likely cripple rescue teams like the one working at a caved-in mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake.

OTTAWA — The Harper government was warned cutting federal funding would likely cripple rescue teams like the one working at a caved-in mall in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake.

Public Safety Canada evaluated the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue units five years ago and found that without funding from Ottawa, there was a risk that some or all of the teams would not survive.

“There is a need for the federal government to continue contributions to build capacity and capability for teams focused on Heavy Urban Search and Rescue,” the report found.

A Heavy Urban Search and Rescue unit from Toronto is leading operations in Elliot Lake, where a mall roof collapsed Saturday afternoon, killing at least two people.

The September 2007 Public Safety report lauded the search-and-rescue teams as a “national resource,” and said there was a need for the federal government to keep funding them.

“The HUSAR Teams have a need for ongoing operating and maintenance funding to ensure sustainability. Without such funding there is a risk that some or all of the HUSAR Teams will not survive,” it warned.

“The provinces with exceptions (notably Manitoba) have not offered funding resources to maintain what is perceived to be a federal government initiative. Regional-municipalities claim not to have sufficient budget to maintain a nationally deployable HUSAR capability and capacity that has largely been built using federal funds.”

Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team leaders stressed the need for federal funding to Public Safety officials.

“Because they do not have adequate funds for ongoing operations and maintenance … the sustainability of their organizations is in jeopardy as is their ability to fulfil their missions in the long-term,” the report says.

“Their assertion is that continued development and future sustainability of HUSAR teams for co-ordinated national deployment is dependent upon contributions from the federal government. They want the federal government to provide funding to ensure the sustainability of the HUSAR teams.”

The lion’s share of funding for Canada’s five Heavy Urban Search and Rescue units comes from the federal Joint Emergency Preparedness Program. But the Conservatives quietly axed the program in the March budget.

A Public Safety official told the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs in April that federal funding for the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program will end next year.

“The original objectives of this program, namely, to enhance local emergency preparedness and response capacity, have been met,” the official wrote.

The units — based in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax and Manitoba — received nearly $1.9 million in federal funding this fiscal year.

When federal funding ends next year, the teams will have received a combined total of $9.7 million since 2009, according to figures provided by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ office.

The minister’s spokeswoman defended the cuts to the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program, saying 90 per cent of emergencies in Canada are managed by municipalities or at the provincial or territorial level.

“Our government has supplemented provincial emergency preparedness by investing in equipment and training for urban search and rescue teams, firefighters, police and other first responders,” Julie Carmichael said in an email.

“Moving forward, our government is focused on delivering long-term disaster prevention funding to help provincial and territorial governments build infrastructure to protect against natural disasters.”

She did not answer a follow-up question about the 2007 evaluation of the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue units.

Sean Tracey, the chair of the board for the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness, said the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams can’t go on without federal funding.

“In all likelihood, these teams will have to disband,” he said.

“These are expensive costs for municipalities of any size. And a building collapse, structure collapse, these are low-probability, high-severity issues, and a municipality just doesn’t have the funds to support these contingencies.

“And this is why we set up a national program and started looking at this 12 years ago, so the federal government would offset some of those costs and risks.”

Some have suggested the military as a replacement. But Tracey, a former military engineer who served in Haiti, dismissed that notion.

“We have no technical skills in the military for (heavy urban) search and rescue. We have no equipment, and the limited amount of equipment we have is not suited for this type of work,” he said.

In the case of Elliot Lake, Tracey said the military could only have dispatched a disaster assistance response team to provide drinking water, medical treatment, security and communications.

Ann Wyganowski, a Toronto-based consultant on disaster and emergency planning, said specialized search teams are expensive but important.

“(Rescue teams) are things that cost money,” she said. “Staff need to be maintained. All governments right now are tightening their belts. They’re trying to cut back on their spending and often, we see the police fighting back because they are being cut back too fast.”

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny wrote a scathing editorial in the Globe and Mail newspaper blasting the Conservatives for cutting the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program’s funding.

In an interview, Kenny said people tend to forget about the need for emergency preparedness programs until there’s a disaster like the one in Elliot Lake.

“This is one of the really pernicious things about this budget,” he said. “None of us really knows what the impact is going to be.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Hub on Ross has announced it has permanently closed. (Photo courtesy The Hub on Ross Facebook page)
The Hub on Ross in Red Deer to permanently close

The Hub on Ross in Red Deer permanently closed on Wednesday. “The… Continue reading

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopened earlier this month, after closing in March due to the pandemic. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopens

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House was closed for months due… Continue reading

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Sergio Santos, right, of the Philadelphia Union, loses the race to the ball against goalie Quentin Westberg of Toronto FC during the first half of an MLS match Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Chester, Pa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Frustrated coach Greg Vanney defends banged-up Toronto FC after second straight loss

Frustrated coach Greg Vanney defends banged-up Toronto FC after second straight loss

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Robert and third baseman Justin Turner pose for a group picture after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. Sporting venues and games certainly have super-spreader potential but that risk can be minimized with buy-in from all involved, experts said Wednesday. The subject moved into the spotlight Wednesday after L.A. Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19 at the World Series. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eric Gay
Sports’ buy-in needed to prevent super-spreader potential: experts

Sports’ buy-in needed to prevent super-spreader potential: experts

In this image released by Fox, from left, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis, John Candy and Leon are shown in a scene from the film "Cool Runnings." THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, Fox
Not cool: Jamaican bobsledder wants thief to return stolen shell to Calgary bar

An original member of the Jamaican bobsled team featured in the 1993… Continue reading

Speedskater Ivanie Blondin trains at the Olympic Oval in Calgary on October 17, 2016. Canada's long-track speedskating team is chasing ice to Fort St. John, B.C. The country's top speedskaters have been without ice in Calgary's Olympic Oval since early September because of a mechanical failure there. World champions Ivanie Blondin, Graeme Fish and Ted-Jan Bloemen are among 50 people including coaches and support staff travelling to northern B.C. for a 15-day training camp starting Nov. 1. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian long-track speedskating team finds temporary home in B.C.

Canadian long-track speedskating team finds temporary home in B.C.

The "Great One," Wayne Gretzky, left, holds up a banner bearing his number with some help from his friend Joey Moss during a jersey retirement ceremony at Skyreach Centre in Edmonton on Firday, October 1, 1999. Former Oilers captain Kelly Buchberger remembers how a familiar friend would come "barrelling" into the visitors' dressing room when he returned to Edmonton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Wayne Gretzky reflects on the life, legacy of Joey Moss: ‘He gave parents hope’

Wayne Gretzky reflects on the life, legacy of Joey Moss: ‘He gave parents hope’

Players' sticks are shown during a World Championships Group A hockey game between Russia and Denmark, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A $30-million settlement of three class actions over the failure to pay junior hockey players the minimum wage has been thrown into jeopardy after three judges refused to sign off on the agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev
Junior hockey employment lawsuit on thin ice; judges refuse to OK $30-million deal

Junior hockey employment lawsuit on thin ice; judges refuse to OK $30-million deal

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Labour union leaders are urging Albertans to sign up to protest Premier Jason Kenney’s government through rallies and demonstrations and, if necessary, provincewide general strikes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta union leaders launch protest website against Kenney government

Alberta union leaders launch protest website against Kenney government

Most Read