The federal government still has not provided First Nations with the support needed to respond to emergencies such as wildfires and floods despite warnings almost a decade ago, according to a new report from Canada’s auditor general.
Karen Hogan audited Indigenous Services Canada’s handling of emergency management, concluding the department was too reactive, instead of taking preventive steps to mitigate damages when floods, fires and landslides strike by spending on infrastructure.
The report pointed out there are 112 such projects that do not have funding.
“Until these projects are completed First Nations communities are likely to continue to experience emergencies that could be averted by investing in the right infrastructure,” it said.
The auditor said there have been more than 1,300 emergencies in First Nations communities over the past decade, resulting in more than 130,000 people being forced to leave their homes and traditional lands.
The report flagged that these figures are only expected to grow, given the impacts of climate change.
Hogan warned the department is spending three-and-a-half times more money helping First Nations recover from disasters than it is on helping them prepare.
“It is likely that Indigenous Services Canada is incurring significant costs to respond to – and help First Nations communities recover from – emergencies that could have been mitigated or avoided,” the report said.
“First Nations will continue to be more vulnerable to emergencies if they are not adequately supported to prepare for and mitigate emergencies.”
Hogan made a series of recommendations, all of which the department said it has accepted.
She also pointed out that issues flagged by the auditor’s office back in 2013 went unaddressed, including a recommendation that called on Ottawa to identify which First Nations communities were the least equipped to manage an emergency.
“Doing so would allow the department to target investments in these communities, such as building culverts and dikes to prevent seasonal floods, and to help avoid some of the costs of responding to and recovering from emergencies.”