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Federal emergency preparedness minister comments on challenging year

Harjit Sajjan touches on wildfires, floods and hurricane, and relationship with India.
Federal minister of emergency preparedness Harjit Sajjan has had a busy year, with floods in the spring and record-breaking wildfires soon after. Sajjan said dealing with climate change proactively has been a learning experience, and agencies are being adaptive in response to emergencies.

It has been a busy summer for federal minister of emergency preparedness Harjit Sajjan.

In a year where wildfires have broken records, Sajjan said he has not been overwhelmed, but it has been an extremely active case file for him.

Speaking to the Peak about a funding announcement for the Powell Forest Canoe Route in the qathet region, Sajjan took time to express appreciation for all those who have fought wildfires throughout the country.

“Our hearts go out to them for the work they are doing,” said Sajjan, who acknowledged that this year, firefighters have lost their lives in service to the wildfires.

“This is the result of climate change. We were dealing with floods early on in the spring and it immediately went into wildfires. Let’s not forget we were just dealing with a hurricane on the east coast.”

Sajjan said the government has been able to respond to those areas in need. He said that when he was the minister of defence, he had helped set up the military defence policy on disaster response. He said when he was a police officer prior to political life, he signed up for and was selected for the search and rescue team in Vancouver, and he was able to learn firsthand about emergency response and the command system.

“That knowledge now helps me in this new role [as minister of emergency preparedness], making sure we prevent, but if we have to respond, we have the right resources at the local level, greater capacity, and making sure we support the provincial response,” said Sajjan. “We are also looking at what type of federal responses that are needed.

“We need to make sure the right resources get to the right places at the right time. It’s been extremely busy and we need to make sure that we continually are prepared and learn.”

Sajjan said his ministry has been making changes and is learning year-by-year.

“We have learned how to work together, cooperate together and share together, but now we need to modernize the system and prevent more incidents,” said Sajjan. “Climate change is here, so we need to make sure it has the least amount of impact on our communities. That’s the goal.”

Sajjan said federal officials are having discussions with the provinces regarding emergency preparedness.

“For example, in B.C. and the Northwest Territories, things were really getting ramped up and evacuations were taking place,” said Sajjan. “I was on the phone with the Alberta minister and Alberta really stepped up to support the evacuations. They even provided a lot of water bomber support in British Columbia as well. We were doing a lot of coordination and sharing of resources.”

He said on the federal side, it’s about making sure the Canadian Coast Guard and the military are in the right places. He said it is all managed through the government operations centre that looks at and monitors all types of emergencies.

“We try to monitor very early on to stay one step ahead, so we have the resources ready to go, so that there is no gap in the response,” said Sajjan.

Regarding the souring relationship between Canada and India over the announcement by prime minister Justin Trudeau regarding intelligence suggesting that India was behind the death of Canadian Sikh independence advocate Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Sajjan said a serious crime of murder has been committed.

“We need to make sure the appropriate resources are put into place,” said Sajjan. “The safety of Canadians is absolutely the number one priority for us, including the sovereignty of our country. When it comes to this, we will make sure that our intelligence agencies have the right resources and make sure the intelligence can be shared appropriately, working with our police agencies.

“It’s disappointing, the decision that India has made regarding visas for Canadians, but our focus is on the integrity of the investigation. We are asking India to cooperate fully with our investigation.”

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