The federal government cannot blame its failure to improve First Nations emergency management on a lack of outreach from the communities themselves, Canada’s auditor general said Monday.
Ottawa should, “in the true spirit of reconciliation,” review which First Nations need help the most instead of waiting for those communities to ask for assistance, Karen Hogan told a House of Commons committee studying her latest report on the federal government’s performance helping Indigenous communities prepare for natural disasters.
She began her testimony by outlining how she is the third auditor general to flag concerns about the federal approach to the issue, which her report concludes is more reactive than proactive.
Her recent report says the government has yet to identify which of the hundreds of First Nations across the country are the least equipped to handle natural disasters. The report notes the same issue was flagged in 2013, but the government has not moved to correct it.
Had Indigenous Services Canada — the department responsible for providing services to First Nations — done this, Hogan says, it could have targeted spending to ensure communities have the infrastructure in place to mitigate the effects of floods or fires.
“You have to come to the table with the community,” Hogan said Monday.
“Establish that trust, and follow up that trust with real, concrete actions, not just commitments or dialogue, but real concrete actions to drive change.”
She said many Indigenous communities have experienced recurring natural disasters, adding: “I’m sure that they feel at times let down.”
“Actions speak a lot louder than words, so I would encourage Indigenous Services Canada to take a full, comprehensive inventory of what they believe the needs are of First Nations communities in this area and then start taking some concrete actions to find ways to address that.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples as major priority for his Liberal government since he came to power in 2015.
Hogan’s report, however, outlines that Indigenous Services Canada, which was one of two departments created when Trudeau split the former Department of Indigenous Affairs into two in 2017, is failing to provide First Nations with the assistance needed to handle natural disasters.
In her findings, she emphasized the devastating consequences Indigenous communities experience when they are forced to relocate from their traditional lands because of evacuations.
She also concluded Ottawa is paying the price for not being proactive.
Her report warned it is spending 3.5 times more money helping First Nations recover from such disasters than it is on helping them prepare.
—Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press