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,
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.;.
April 14, 1967
(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.)
Subtopic: PROVISION OF FEDERAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEET LOSSES