Indigenous Services Canada did not provide First Nations communities with support to manage emergencies

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Patty Hajdu MP
Patty Hajdu MP - Thunder Bay-Superior North

OTTAWA – INDIGENOUS – Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled her annual report in the House of Commons.

AG Hogan found that Indigenous Services Canada did not provide First Nations communities with the support they need to prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies such as floods and wildfires, which are increasing in both frequency and intensity. Over the last 13 years, more than 1,300 emergencies have occurred in First Nations communities, causing more than 130,000 people to be evacuated and displaced.

The audit found that First Nations communities had identified many infrastructure projects that would mitigate the impact of emergencies. The department has a backlog of 112 of these infrastructure projects that it has approved but not funded. Meanwhile, it is spending 3.5 times more money on responding to and recovering from emergencies than on providing communities with the support that would help them prevent these emergencies or enhance their abilities to respond to them. Indigenous Services Canada’s actions were consistently more reactive than preventative. According to Public Safety Canada, for every $1 invested in preparedness and mitigation, $6 can be saved in emergency response and recovery costs.

Many of the issues noted in this audit were first raised in the Office of the Auditor General of Canada’s 2013 audit of emergency management on reserves. For example, Indigenous Services Canada still had not identified which First Nations communities most need support to increase their capacity to prepare for emergencies. If the department identified these communities, it could target investments accordingly—for example, to build culverts and dikes to prevent or reduce the impact of seasonal floods. This would help to minimize costs that the department is currently incurring to help First Nations communities respond to and recover from emergencies.

The audit also found that Indigenous Services Canada did not know whether First Nations communities received services that were culturally appropriate and comparable to those provided to similar non‑Indigenous communities.

“Over the last 4 fiscal years, Indigenous Services Canada has spent about $828 million on emergency management,” said Ms. Hogan. “Funding and building approved infrastructure projects, such as culverts and dikes to prevent seasonal floods, would help minimize the impact on people and the cost of responding to and recovering from emergencies.”

Minister of Indigenous Services, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, issued the following statement responding to the report:

“Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has received the Auditor General of Canada’s report, Managing Emergencies in First Nations Communities, issued earlier today.

The health, safety and well-being of First Nations communities remains our top shared priority with our partners. The seven recommendations outlined in the report for Indigenous Services Canada highlight important and critical gaps that must be addressed, both in responding to emergencies and preparing for them. The department welcomes and accepts all of these recommendations, many of which align with work underway to improve on-reserve emergency management services.

First Nations communities are on the front lines and are at increased risk from the threats posed by natural hazards, whether it be floods, wildfires or extreme weather events. We’ve seen this with major and disastrous flooding and fire events in British Columbia, repeating flooding in Manitoba, and hurricanes affecting the Atlantic region. With climate change, these threats are only increasing in frequency and severity. We know we need to act now.

Indigenous Services Canada is developing a comprehensive action plan to not only address the report recommendations, but to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support First Nations in their efforts to manage emergencies affecting their communities. This work is guided by key principles, including:

  • First Nations’ input in their own emergency management planning and response is of foremost importance.
  • First Nations are full and equal partners in decisions that affect their own communities.

Indigenous Services Canada is supporting the development of First Nations-led service delivery models that reflect community-identified needs and priorities, and the inherent right to self-determination. In addition, we are continuing efforts in First Nations service transfer, including emergency management programs. We also recognize the importance of spiritual connection to the land and traditional knowledge in advancing climate change adaptation, which will help protect First Nations from climate hazards in the future.

I thank the Auditor General for their report and recommendations. Gaps in prevention, in coordination, and in responding to emergencies in First Nations communities remain, but we are committed to addressing them and doing the work needed to keep communities safe. Above all, this work must be led in true partnership with First Nations and all orders of government, ensuring that equal participation and equitable resources are available.”