--> Gill Blog: Hail to the Chief (Of Preparedness)

Gill Blog

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Hail to the Chief (Of Preparedness)

With the wave of a clasp of eagle feathers, and a wafting column of smoke, Paul Martin was officially sworn in as Canada’s 21st Prime Minister. Before the ceremony ended, a wholesale change of cabinet was also made giving a fresh start to a new administration. Mr. Martin’s most plumb appointment was reserved for Alberta MP Anne McLellan, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. As the Globe and Mail reported:
Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, who takes responsibility for the new portfolio, now becomes the link with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, a role played until yesterday by outgoing deputy prime minister John Manley.

But as Ms. McLellan emphasized in an interview yesterday, her new ministry is not the mirror image of the one south of the border. It is less sweeping, in one sense, because it does not encompass any immigration functions, a reflection of Canadians' sensitivity about any suggestion that there might be a link between security problems and foreign-born residents. But it also is more sweeping, in the sense that it includes numerous operations to combat natural disasters.

In the wake of the emergencies caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad-cow disease), it was felt that Ottawa needed to better co-ordinate its responses and its prevention efforts in health and safety, as well as against terrorism.
The fact that this ministry has been created reflects the acknowledgement that DR and BCP strategies need to be formulated at the highest level of government. This is significant because in the past, Canadians have been overly casual in matters concerning preparedness and continuity.

We needn’t look any further than an anecdote I heard this week regarding Hurricane Juan to hammer that point home. At an all-day workshop I attended at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Jim Abraham, the Director at the Meteorological Research Service of Canada provided a first-hand account of the damage caused by Juan in Halifax. He also said that the number of deaths could have been magnified by a factor of 10 or even 100 had the storm struck at midday instead of midnight. Why? Because Haligonians were utterly ill-prepared for the storm and had made few if any preparations. This was in sharp contrast to the measures put in place by residents of the US eastern seaboard the week before in anticipation of Hurricane Isabel.

Post-Juan analysis suggested a change in attitude was definitely required, and today’s move reflects a strong commitment to move in that direction.


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