Disaster relief charges deplorable

When faced by natural disasters that put their lives at risk, Canadians depend on and expect our troops to protect them

Editor, The Times:

When faced by natural disasters that put their lives at risk, Canadians depend on and expect our troops to protect them – yet M.P. Cathy McLeod and the Conservative government are sending mixed messages about charging municipalities and provinces when they provide this life-saving emergency help.

Protecting Canadians has always been one of the core responsibilities of the Canadian Forces, who have proudly helped communities faced with flooding, wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Troops helped to fight major forest fires in British Columbia in 2003. Communities depend on the troops to provide assistance quickly on a scale and with expertise no one can match.

Yet the Conservative government made a secret decision last July to force local governments to foot the bill for emergency assistance. They never told municipalities or the public.

It’s part of the fiscal restraint announced in the last budget, cuts that Mrs. McLeod claimed were to “the back office” have turned out to be to essential services. The Conservatives need to be reminded that there is only one taxpayer. The policy of billing a municipality that just suffered a disaster is fiscal foolishness. The Conservatives know the cost of everything and value of nothing.

Amid a growing outcry, Defence Minister Peter MacKay issued a press release late at night claiming that there had been no change in policy, neglecting to mention that his Department will now be creating a bill and forwarding it to another department for collection. The effect is that the municipality or province will still be paying twice – once through their general taxes, and a second time to the federal government. While this policy may have already been on the books, previous governments recognized that charging disaster-stricken Canadians twice for the same service is unfair.

These mixed messages must stop. Canadians take care of one another in times of emergency, no questions asked. Mrs. McLeod and the Conservative government must reverse this poorly thought-out policy immediately and give assurance to Canadians that they will not be stuck with a bill from their own army when the next disaster strikes.

John McKay, M.P.


Liberal Party Defence Critic