HUGHES CALLS FOR FEDERAL FUNDING OF HEAVY URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE

Ottawa – The final report of the Elliot Lake commission provided a clear recommendation for public safety that the government is ignoring in favour of a pre-election gift to the wealthiest Canadians, according to Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes.

Hughes challenged the government to reinstate financial support for heavy urban search and rescue (HUSAR) teams in the House of Commons, Wednesday. HUSAR funding was cut in the 2012 budget, just months before the Algo Centre Mall collapsed.

“It is gone because the Conservative government cut the joint preparedness program entirely, which may limit the ability of the teams to respond and also threatens their very existence,” said Hughes.   “This recommendation comes two years after the joint preparedness program was axed, but there were already warnings in place about the necessity of federal money to support and maintain heavy urban search and rescue teams when the cuts were made.”

Hughes was referring to a 2007 Public Safety Canada evaluation, which found HUSAR teams relied on federal funding and could be lost if that funding disappeared. The government’s argues that HUSAR should be paid for by municipalities and provinces.

“These teams respond to extraordinary events like we saw in Elliot Lake,” said Hughes. “With only five teams in all of Canada, they work out of province when needed.”

The 2007 Public Safety report says the provinces consider heavy search and rescue to be a federal government initiative and that regional municipalities do not have sufficient budgets to maintain a nationally deployable heavy urban search and rescue capability and capacity - especially one that has largely been built using federal funds.

“We know that budget 2012 was full of indiscriminate cuts so the Conservatives could accumulate a surplus to fund a pre-election spending spree,” said Hughes. “If Canadians had to choose between pre-election goodies and heavy urban search and rescue teams, I am sure they would make the right choice. “