Auditor general says Canada failing First Nations in response to wildfires, floods

Despite warnings from nearly a decade ago, the federal government is still failing to provide Indigenous people with the support they need to respond to emergencies such as wildfires and floods, a new report from Canada’s auditor general says.

Karen Hogan, who has audited Aboriginal Services Canada’s handling of emergency management, believes the department has been too reactive, rather than proactively investing in infrastructure to mitigate damage when floods, fires and landslides strike.

As of April, 112 such projects had not been funded despite meeting the eligibility criteria, the report noted. It said 74 of them had been in the department’s backlog for more than five years.

“Until these projects are completed, Indigenous communities are likely to continue to experience emergencies that could be avoided by investing in the right infrastructure,” the report reads.

Based on the $12 million annual budget of the Aboriginal Infrastructure Fund, the department estimates it will take 24 years to fund the projects, the report added.

“As a result, Aboriginal communities may continue to experience emergencies that could have been prevented or mitigated by building infrastructure.”

Hogan found that Aboriginal services provided emergency assistance to First Nations by negotiating agreements with provinces and agencies such as the Canadian Red Cross.

Over the past decade, there have been more than 1,300 emergencies in Aboriginal communities, resulting in the displacement of more than 130,000 people from their homes and traditional lands, her report said.

Those numbers are only expected to grow given the effects of climate change, with Indigenous peoples “displaced more often by natural disasters,” Hogan told a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday.

Her report warns that the department spends 3.5 times as much on helping Indigenous peoples recover from such disasters as on helping them prepare.

Over the past few fiscal years, disaster preparedness funding has amounted to $646 million, compared to $182 million for prevention efforts.

“Indigenous Services Canada could incur significant costs to respond to — and help Aboriginal communities recover from — emergencies that could have been mitigated or avoided,” the report said.

“Indigenous people will continue to be more vulnerable to emergencies if they do not receive adequate support to prepare for and mitigate them.”

Hogan made a series of recommendations, all of which the department said it had accepted.

She also noted that issues raised by the audit office in 2013, including a recommendation calling for Ottawa to identify which First Nations communities are least equipped to respond to emergencies, have not been addressed.

“Doing so would allow the department to target investments in these communities, such as building culverts and levees to protect against seasonal flooding, and help avoid some of the costs of responding to and recovering from emergencies,” the report said.

—Stephanie Taylor, Canadian Press

2021 BC FloodsFederal PoliticsIndigenous Wildfires

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