April 14, 1967


Gaston Clermont


Mr. Gaston Clermont (Labelle):

Mr. Speaker, I wish to speak on Bill No. C-52, an act to provide for the establishment of the Canada Disaster Fund. I note that the hon. member for Kootenay West (Mr. Herridge) introduced a similar bill in 1965, which received first reading as Bill No. C-17 on April [DOT]8, 1965.

It is often said that the times in which we live are characterized by the rapid development of science and technology. Our times are also characterized, on the human plane, by the interdependence of peoples which is exemplified by their solidarity in times of disaster.

Thus, when part of the coast of Ceylon was devastated by a tidal wave a few years ago, the Canadian people, through the Canadian Red Cross, helped the fishermen deprived of their livelihood by that disaster.

The Canadians also gave assistance to India, stricken by starvation, and more recently to Chile, where earthquakes had made

many victims and caused a great deal of harm to part of the population.

Such mutual aid at the international level made it possible for a great many victims of disasters throughout the world to benefit from assistance which their respective governments could not afford.

Transposing the situation to the national level, it can be said that the same applies to Canada. Indeed, in the case of disasters, floods, hurricanes and other calamities, causing considerable material losses, the local public powers are primarily responsible for the organization of assistance. Thus, municipal and provincial authorities have the power to operate directly in such a held.

Since the world war, Mr. Speaker, the federal government has granted assistance in the case of certain disasters. The hon. member for Kootenay West mentioned a few of those. Allow me to point out others: the Fraser river, in 1948, the federal contribution was $14,700,000; the Red river, in 1950, $16,000,000; the fires in Rimouski and Cabano, in 1950, $2,800,000; the Sarnia tornado, in 1953, $137,462; the Hazel hurricane in 1954, $764638; the Saskatchewan floods, in 1955, $32,000; in 1966, on the occasion of the Red river flood in Manitoba, the assistance granted by the federal government in this respect is not definitely known, but if we take as a basis the cost estimates for the province of Manitoba in this regard, the total assistance of the central government came to $11,550,000, of which $9,600,000 will be used to fight the flood, to restore highways, bridges and waterways and to offset damages to houses, farms and small enterprises.

I think it is understood that the rest will be mainly earmarked for the building of permanent dikes.

Bill No. C-52, now under study, is intended to lead the public authorities to take another step toward granting adequate help to the victims of a disaster. Although the principle of this bill is most praiseworthy from the humanitarian point of view, the fact remains that it brings up a constitutional problem which deserves a very careful and detailed consideration, as any matter of such an importance.

Thus far, the government has participated in emergency programs only on the special request of the provinces concerned.

The right hon. Prime Minister (Mr. Pearson) briefly indicated the course to be followed in such a case when answering a question asked in this house on April 29, 1966

April 14. 1967

concerning requests for help from areas devastated by a storm on Lake Erie. This is what he said then:

This matter was called to our attention yesterday by a member of the house as well as by letters from members representing the area concerned ... In respect of matters of this kind any approach for assistance should come through the provincial government.

Several days later, on May 5, he stated that he was fully aware of the problem and added that the government had been considering it for some time and that he hoped soon to be able to deal with this matter in a different way, and not pragmatically as it had been the practice in the past. Indeed, no plan for federal participation to those rescue operations has yet been evolved, so that support by the central government has always been in the form of an ad hoc measure, consecutive to a provincial request to this effect.

The federal government recognizes, Mr. Speaker, the problem posed by the establishment of an appropriate compensation plan for victims of peacetime disasters and it realizes that past action, in such circumstances, may not always have been satisfactory from all points of view.

For this reason, the Minister of Industry and Defence Production (Mr. Drury) was authorized last year to initiate an interdepartmental study of these problems. That authorization gave rise to the setting up of an interdepartmental committee, and the Emergency Measures Organization was entrusted with the task of ensuring its continuation.

The merit of Bill No. C-52 would be to create a fund to which the federal and provincial governments could contribute as well as private individuals, institutions and companies. A board of directors would have to evaluate beforehand each year the maximum amount which each provincial government would have to contribute. If losses exceeded that amount, they would be considered to be on a national scale and that is when the board of directors would step in to take from the fund all the money needed to provide compensation for losses in the province concerned.

Such a measure would result in providing all Canadian provinces with equal opportunities, so to speak, in case of public disasters, caused by an act of God, or and in cases of absolute necessity.

The purpose of this bill is therefore to co-ordinate the national effort so as to repair the damage sustained in any area of Canada,

National Disasters

in cases where the province concerned could not cope with the situation alone.

But as has just been pointed out, the wording of this bill raises a constitutional problem which may give rise to some protests on the part of certain provinces. As a matter of fact, federal participation in such activities could be denounced as an infringement by the federal government in a field considered as coming under provincial jurisdiction.

Moreover, before undertaking such a plan, I think it would be advisable and wise to study thoroughly the cases in which the federal government has been called upon to assist the victims of disasters in various regions of the country. It must be considered that Canada is an extremely large country where all sorts of disasters may strike: floods, forest fires, land-slides, etc.

If we refer to the crown liability act, we realize that it does not extensively involve the responsibility of the federal government and thus it seems that Bill No. C-52 would not be in agreement with the general economics of the above-mentioned legislation since the bill would considerably increase the responsibility of the federal government.

In the field of relief to victims of disasters, the federal government of the United States took, a few years ago, a number of adequate steps to ensure efficient action from the states as well as from the central government. In accordance with the 1950 "Disaster Act", the president may, at the request of a state, declare that a disaster is such that it requires federal government intervention.

Therefore, the president empowers the federal government to grant the proper assistance to the state involved. A federal law provides, on the other hand, for a federal relief fund for people who are victims of flood, under the "Flood Insurance Act" of 1956.

Another federal legislation provides for the organization of civil defence to help the states repair essential public works, such as roads, bridges and buildings, for instance.

Mr. Speaker, there is still quite a bit to be done by the interdepartmental committee; it is already obvious that a large number of difficult questions still have to be solved, most of which are not dealt with in Bill No. C-52,. as for instance:

(a) The definition of allowable expenses, more particularly how to deal with insured; and insurable losses, public and private-losses, maximum and minimum amounts, etc.;.

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National Disasters

(b) Should the federal government, or rather Canadian taxpayers, pay contributions for comparatively small disasters and, if not, what is the limit and how is it arrived at?

(c) Furthermore, would it not be preferable, particularly in the case of commercial establishments, to consider a disaster insurance scheme?

(d) Also, what relationship is there between a general proposition to help the disaster victims in peace time and the current programs on certain types of disasters as, for instance, the crop insurance plan and others?

But before such measures can be translated into legislation, inherent constitutional problems should be discussed and resolved at a federal-provincial conference.

[DOT] (5:30 p.m.)



Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp

Mr. Joseph P. O'Keefe (St. John's East):

Mr. Speaker, not too long ago on an occasion when I spoke in this place the hon. member for Kootenay West (Mr. Herridge) applauded me. I was very grateful for that applause, if a little bit surprised. I was not surprised at the conclusion of my speech when the same hon. member on a question of privilege asked that his applause be rescinded because I did not agree with him. This afternoon I hope that hon. member will not have reason to do the same thing. On this occasion I am almost totally in agreement with him, or at least with the principle of his bill.

There are many meanings of the word disaster. Webster's second edition says that the word disaster is of astrological origin, hence an ill portent. It also states it means a sudden and extraordinary misfortune or a calamity; an unforeseen and ruinous mischance or misadventure such as a shipwreck. I am sure you will agree with me, Mr. Speaker, that we from Newfoundland know plenty about shipwrecks. It is also suggested that the word means the failure of a great enterprise. We also know something about that situation. The hon. member for St. John's East represents that little Bell Island. I think it was Mary Queen of Scots who once said- perhaps the historians will correct me if I am wrong-that when she died the word Calais would be found written on her heart. When this hon. member passes on and someone takes the trouble to look he will find written the word "Wabana", the Indian name for Bell Island.

Webster's third international dictionary defines disaster as to bring harm upon, to

injure or to ruin. The Oxford English dictionary suggests that great poets and writers have used the word disaster in many different connotations. The famous writer Macaulay stated:

Faithlessness was the chief cause of his disasters, and is the chief stain on his memory.

Milton's reference was:

-From behind the moon in dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds on half the nations.

You will all remember Goldsmith who said in his delightful if poignant "Deserted Village":

Full well, the boding tremblers learn'd to trace the day's disasters in his morning face.

Be that as it may, most of us in our own lifetime have often had tragic reason to know just what disaster means. Before I proceed may I pay full and sincere tribute to that wonderful company of men and women banded together under the Red Cross. Of course there are many other organizations and individuals, many of whom if not most are completely voluntary. The good these people do simply cannot be weighed in words. Even they cannot know the good they do; just as one unremembered act of kindness by an individual lives.

The effects of disasters have been little studied and are difficult to summarize. It is especially difficult in the present state of knowledge on the subject to differentiate accurately between the effects of a sudden catastrophe and a long drawn out disaster. Often when a large area is affected there ensues a period of social and economic instability. This is often characterized by fluctuating prices, shift of class lines and movement of population.

The shock of sudden disaster often produces unusual or extreme types of human behaviour. On the one hand acts of kindness, of help, of assistance, and plain good neighbourliness and charity are called forth. On the other hand there are often exhibitions of unusual greed and of publicity seekers. We are inexorably involved with and responsible for each other.

For nearly 500 years our province has been bothered by the disasters of history. More often than not disasters are caused by men, not by God or by nature, although we have had our share of those. Bell Island, another area in my own district within a few miles of St. John's, is a battery of impending disaster.

We have had only 18 years of Confederation, not 100 like most of you, yet Newfoundland will not be lacking in enthusiastic

April 14, 1967

celebration of our centennial. We, like Abou Ben Adhem, may still lead all the rest.

The bill presented by my hon. friend opposite, Bill C-52, would set up a national disaster fund with a board of trustees to determine in advance a point for each province over which disasters would be considered national in scope. Contributions to the fund could be made in advance by federal and provincial governments, and by individuals, companies and institutions. Disaster is defined in the bill as:

-an inevitable accident or an act of God resulting in losses to persons within a province where such losses exceed in total an amount fixed annually by the trustees in respect of a disaster within that province.

I do not necessarily agree with that definition. I have several questions I wish to ask although there may not be time to ask them all. Could the amount of federal contribution to a disaster be influenced by the size and wealth of the province in which the disaster occurred? In other words, should the federal response to a $1 million disaster in Ontario be the same as the response to the same $1 million disaster in Prince Edward Island, or indeed Newfoundland?

Implicit in the proposal is the relative weakness of any province, particularly the have-not provinces. Although Newfoundland is now a have-not province I am sure that within my lifetime it will become a have province. This proposal would regularize the function of disaster relief in the cases that are not clearly national emergencies, but outside the ability of the province to control. At the present time there are no regular channels or plans and each emergency is met in ad hoc fashion. For example, during the Red River flood in Manitoba, federal aid was worked out through the medium of defence capabilities-the emergency measures organization. One could conceive of some level at which a disaster would be large enough to endanger defence preparedness, even under unification.

In the United States, as a result of the federal disaster act of 1950, the national government can provide disaster aid to states in the most effective way by co-ordinating, through the federal civil defence administration, the activities of all pertinent federal authorities.

The point of view of the Canadian government on the matter of disaster relief was

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clarified on May 5, 1966, by the Prime Minister in the following statement:

[DOT] (5:40 p.m.)

We in the government have been giving consideration to this situation for some time, and I hope the progress of parliamentary business will enable us, before long, to deal with this matter of disasters, on a somewhat different basis than the pragmatic way in which we have been approaching it over the years.

Certain general aspects of any effective approach to the problem comprise the broad review of the physical characteristics and the human and physical consequences of natural disaster; the nature and scope of government efforts that must be far reaching, complex and co-ordinated in the handling of voluntary relief. The kinds of accidents to which Canada is prone are widespread and no one should approach this issue without a detailed knowledge of such historic disasters as wartime St. Lawrence shipwrecks, a tragic fire in Newfoundland, a tornado that blew down much of Regina, a hurricane that hit Toronto, an avalanche in Alberta, a coal mine disaster in Nova Scotia, a flood in Winnipeg, tragic bushfires in the north and in my own province of Newfoundland, and a bridge collapse in Vancouver.

The essence of the matter is that there is no actuarial basis for such events and normal insurance techniques will not apply. Related to this is the fact that Canada is one of the most accident prone countries in the world, and all the demographic aspects of this problem must be taken into consideration. The effect of Bill C-52 would be to regularize the function of disaster relief in those cases not clearly national emergencies, that is, that would impair defence capabilities-but which are clearly beyond the ability of the province to cope with. The board proposed would set a limit in dollars for each province, which would be a measure of that province's ability to cope. This fund would cover all amounts above these limits.

At present there are apparently no regular channels or plans for federal relief and each request for disaster relief is met in ad hoc fashion. Several recent examples have been reported in Hansard debates. One case was the Red river flood of 1966, in which federal aid was carried out through the medium of federal defence capabilities, the E.M.O.

The proposed fund is all-inclusive. In the United States there is a federal insurance plan for flood relief only. Another plan is tied in with the federal civil defence organization to assist states to restore essential public

April 14, 1967

National Disasters

works, that is, roads, bridges, waterworks, building, etc. Under the disaster act the president, on a request by a state governor, may decide to declare a "major disaster" and so authorize this form of federal assistance. The main problem for such proposals in Canada is a constitutional one. Disaster relief is under provincial jurisdiction. I know the problem Bill C-52 is proposing to meet has accordingly been referred by the Prime Minister to the federal-provincial conference for discussion. Whether or not discussion has actually taken place is a matter for conjecture.

The Minister of Industry (Mr. Drury) stated on October 22, 1964, that informal consultation was being carried out with the United States on the question of peacetime disasters and the role played by a federal civil emergency organization. He said:

Specific recommendations can be expected to emerge from these discussions.

I am in complete agreement with the necessity of providing relief in the case of disasters. I do not suppose there is a province in Canada that has had so many disasters as my own. Perhaps they have not been big, national disasters, but every disaster, if it affects a human being, affects all of us. You, sir, and I know of the many nights when the door was kept ajar while the storm raged outside. I believe our friend, Ned Pratt, who is a Newfoundlander-he was born in Newfoundland-and who should be, if he is not, poet laureate of Canada, stated it perfectly when he wrote:

It took the sea a thousand years,

A thousand years to trace,

The granite features of this cliff,

In crag and scarp and base.

It took the sea an hour one night,

An hour of storm to trace,

The sculpture of these granite seams,

Upon a woman's face.

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to support the principle of this bill.


Louis Guy LeBlanc


Mr. Guy LeBlanc (Rimouski):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take this opportunity to give my views concerning this Bill No. C-52.

It is evident that everybody should agree that the principle of this bill is based on the most ancient and the most natural humanitarian laws.

In my area, and even in my riding, since the beginning of the century, we have suffered several disasters and conflagrations.

I remember the stories told by older people regarding the shipwreck of the Empress of

Ireland in 1914, at Sainte-Luce, near Rimouski and Pointe-au-Pere.

I also remember very well the fire that destroyed at least a third of the town of Rimouski, where I live, on May 6, 1950. One third of the city was destroyed and the damages amounted to several million dollars. I remember that we got help from the Red Cross, the army, and that a special fund was created thanks to people of goodwill. Insurance companies helped us also. Besides, I think that the C.M.H.C. let us use all the advantages it can offer by way of building and home reconstruction, so that we could rebuild our city. That is why Rimouski was able to remain one of the most important cities on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, in eastern Quebec.

At the same time, on the same day, I believe, another town in our area, located in the constituency of our colleague the hon. member for Riviere-du-Loup-Temiscouata (Mr. Gendron), the town of Cabano, was almost completely destroyed by fire.

Those two fires caused damages amounting to $12,023,400. Insurance policies covered damages up to $2,545,000 and we suffered a loss of $9,478,000. On the other hand, we benefited from all the help I have already mentioned.

Along the Rimouski river there was also another disaster, another calamity: a mountain of mud and clay slid into the Rimouski river; this landslide destroyed several farmers' establishments, changed the course of the river and buried machinery valued at several thousand dollars owned by contractors who were doing work in the vicinity.

The hon. members who spoke before me mentioned many other disasters which happened here in Canada. In addition to those disasters, I think that it is advisable to remember also the collapse of the Quebec bridge about which a lot was written at the beginning of the century, and which caused some casualties and a great deal of damage. That accident occurred on August 28, 1908, with 75 dead. When the Duplessis bridge collapsed, on January 31, 1951, it was also a conflagration if we consider the damage and the four casualties.

Upon consideration of those disasters as well as those mentioned by the hon. members who spoke before me: the fire in St. John's (Newfoundland) which caused several casualties, in 1942; the tornado which destroyed 500 buildings in Regina, in 1912; the hurricane

April 14, 1967

Hazel, in 1954; the avalanche in Alberta, which completely destroyed a town and killed 66 people; several disasters in coal mines in Nova Scotia; floods in Manitoba; the forest fires of 1911 and 1922; the Porcupine Are in 1911, and the Haileybury fire, in 1922. It is obvious that we cannot disagree with the principle of this bill.

[DOT] (5:50 p.m.)

However, upon reading the bill, I think that three major points must be considered, and all our colleagues in this house, I am sure, have already examined them.

First of all, as someone said a while ago, in the past the federal government did not delay in meeting the requests of the provinces in such cases. Often, federal assistance even preceded the requests. Moreover, a federal minister has been assigned to correct the effects of those disasters.

Mention was also made a while ago of the amounts the federal government paid to alleviate the distress in those circumstances.

I have a few figures here which I want to mention rapidly: the Fraser river disaster of 1948: contribution, $14,700,000;- may I mention that all these disasters occurred since world war II-the Red river disaster, in 1950, $16 million; Rimouski and Cabano, in 1950, federal contribution, $2,800,000; the Sarnia tornado in 1953, the federal contribution was $137,462,000; hurricane Hazel, $764,638; the flood in Saskatchewan, in 1955, $32,000; other floods in 1955, in Manitoba, $18,000; the Springhill disaster in Nova Scotia in 1956, $25,000; another disaster, at the same location, in 1958, $100,000; the New Brunswick fishermen disaster in 1959, $50,000; certain floods in New Brunswick, in 1961, $50,000; and other floods in Port Alberni, $250,000. This makes a total of $34,927,000.

The second point which is important and on which it is essential to call attention-it is almost a corollary of the first one-is that the federal government recognizes a real need to establish a statute to correct the effects of disasters. On the other hand, as I said a while ago, the Minister of Industry and Minister of Defence Production (Mr. Drury) was given authority to direct interdepartmental studies on these problems with a view to setting up a commission.

Business of the House

Third, in order to draft an adequate bill providing compensation when a disaster occurs, many difficulties and complications must be considered. For instance, it would be advisable to set up an acceptable scale of costs. It would be a good idea also to some disasters which are not big enough to require the help of the federal government.

The size or importance of a province's territory or wealth should also be considered. For instance, should a disaster resulting in a loss of $1 million in Ontario or Quebec be considered on the same basis as a similar disaster in Prince Edward Island?

It would also be necessary to enter into certain agreements regarding the participation of the provinces, because even if the federal government were to pass a legislation to that effect, the provinces would be required, under the constitution, to continue their participation to such programs.

On the other hand, the part played by insurance companies in the past and still to be played in the future must also be taken into consideration. In addition, there are certain details to be spelled out.

In summary, it is those small details which lead me to believe that the bill in its present wording is perhaps being presented in too simple a form to succeed in correcting a complex situation and in solving difficult problems.


Herman Maxwell Batten (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)


Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order, please. The hour for the consideration of private members business is expired.




Reynold Rapp (Chief Opposition Whip; Whip of the Progressive Conservative Party)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Rapp:

Mr. Speaker, what will be the business for next Monday?


Julia Verlyn (Judy) LaMarsh (Secretary of State of Canada)


Miss LaMarsh:

Mr. Speaker, I expect the item of business with which we have been dealing today will be called on Monday.


At six o'clock the house adjourned, without question put, pursuant to standing order.

Monday, April 17, 1967

April 14, 1967