CUTS to a federal program designed to help keep cities running during a large-scale emergency could be putting the North Shore at risk, local governments say.
The City of North Vancouver, the District of West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver voted July 23 to write a letter asking Ottawa to restore funding for the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program to its 2009 levels after it was slashed as part of the federal government's ongoing deficit reduction effort.
After funding the JEPP since 1980, Ottawa reduced its budget in 2009 and plans to cut it off entirely as of 2013.
The North Shore Emergency Management Office has used the funding to provide up-to-date training, equipment and exercises for the North Shore's emergency operations centre. In the event of a disaster like an earthquake, flood or landslide, municipal employees, police and firefighters would all function as one service under the direction of the centre until residents were out of danger and municipal governments could get back to focusing on non-emergency services.
The effect of the budget cuts for North Shore residents could be dire, some councillors warned.
"I would have thought that, post-(Hurricane) Katrina, there wouldn't have been this kind of discussion about emergency preparedness," said District of North Vancouver Coun. Alan Nixon. "I would have thought the federal government and the provincial government would be doing all that's in their power to ensure that municipalities across this country had emergency preparedness plans, disaster plans, evacuation plans and the necessary equipment."
Without the federal contributions, which totaled $267,000 in the last six years, the NSEMO will have to scale back its planning. Several councillors called this a shortsighted move.
"It's an insurance plan. You don't need them all the time but when you do need them, wow, they're an invaluable resource," said district Coun. Lisa Muri. "This is a pure download. This is the federal government, in my view, evading its responsibility to show leadership around the issue of emergency preparedness"
Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn agreed. "Prevention is a better investment than paying for the consequences of lack of preparation and prevention," he said.
City of North Vancouver Coun. Craig Keating called the decision to cut funding "penny-wise and pound-foolish," especially as disasters like wildfires, floods and landslides are becoming more common.
"The impacts of climate change are coming," he said. "(The training) will allow us to help us help ourselves."
The North Shore is in good hands when it comes to emergency services, but if the existing plans and equipment are allowed to become obsolete, they won't be of any help in a catastrophe, city Coun. Pam Bookham said.
"We've been reminded recently of the kinds of devastating events that can take place within a community," she said. "We're fortunate that we are well prepared but we need to maintain that high level of readiness."
The district expanded the motion to include a call for the federal government to abandon its plans to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.
At its peak, the federal government was spending $8.47 million per year on the JEPP program.
The decision to cut the program was a difficult but necessary one, financially, according to John Weston, Conservative MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.
"Taking a national view, these cuts are part of a deficit reduction program that goes coast to coast," Weston said. "The intent of that program was to get our budget in balance and to make sure that taxpayers' money isn't going to interest payments, but to health and education and welfare and national emergency services."
JEPP came under the knife only after the government had reviewed its original objectives and determined that the goal of enhancing local emergency response capacity had been achieved, Weston added.
The same cost-cutting strategy applies to the Kits Coast Guard and other services Canada-wide, Weston said.
"The whole country is engaged in reining in of expenditures."
Andrew Saxton, Conservative MP for North Vancouver, did not respond to a request for comment.