It was recently announced that the Canadian Forces will now be charging provinces and municipalities that have been affected by natural disasters, for their assistance.
Currently, the federal government is responsible for footing the bill when the military is called upon to help in these situations, but cutbacks in the federal defence spending have been cited as the main cause for the change in procedure.
It has been reported that budget cuts of up to $1.1 billion will need to be made by around 2014-2015.
In the past the military has been called in to give assistance in cases of flooding, ice storms, and forest fires. They have also been known to provide a wide array of services such as safe evacuations and medical aid.
However, it is unclear how the Canadian Forces will be evaluating the costs of their assistance and whether affected provinces or cities will be able to get an estimate of the price beforehand.
Karen Leibovici, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said she is concerned about the change, especially because the news was not officially announced to the municipal governments throughout the country.
“The reality is that to put that kind of burden on municipalities is quite surprising. To have a line drawn because there’s a billing issue is not good for municipalities, and it’s not good for Canadians as a whole,” said Leibovici.
Leibovici also said that the impact of this change could be very negative and that the decision should be repealed.
“It needs to be looked at from the perspective of what is needed from Canadians to meet their needs during an emergency. Recognizing that we’re all in this together.”
Conservative Member of Parliament Chris Alexander asserts that the reason for the change is that the department is under financial pressure.
“National Defence takes its responsibility to be a good steward of public funds very seriously,” said Alexander to the CBC.
He claimed the military has always had the power and the responsibility to recover the costs from provinces and cities but has been waiving those charges, which left Ottawa to pay for the expenses for the past 15 years.
Alexander did not comment on how much money the department would save by changing the process, saying instead that the costs would be determined separately by each situation.
In defence of the decision he noted that disaster relief should be secondary to the military’s main job, which is “the defence of Canada.”
“In budgetary terms, it certainly isn’t the dominant role or the main role of the Canadian Forces.”
The flooding in Quebec cost an estimated $4 million, while the 1997 Red River Flood caused more than $500 million in damage. Approximately 8,000 Canadian soldiers assisted with barricade set-up, home evacuations, and offered medical services.
The Defence Department’s decision to start charging for disaster relief assistance is outlined in an internal memo that was sent to Defence Minister Peter MacKay. Postmedia News acquired the document.
The memo noted that “whilst DND has typically waived the cost of CF assistance to other government departments over the past 15 years given present fiscal restraints, the Department is no longer in a position to routinely waive the often significant costs associated with this assistance. Going forward, the waiving of such costs must be the exception, rather than the rule.”
The decision was finalized in July of 2012.