Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.)
|| That the House hereby affirm its support for the following measures to support Canada's firefighters which, in the opinion of the House, the government should act upon promptly: (a) the creation of a national Public Safety Officer Compensation Benefit in the amount of $300,000, indexed annually, to help address the financial security of the families of firefighters and other public safety officers who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty; (b) the recognition of firefighters, in their vital role as “first responders”, as an integral part of Canada’s “critical infrastructure”, and as “health care workers” under the Canada Influenza Pandemic Plan, entitled to priority access to vaccines and other drugs in cases of pandemics and other public health emergencies; (c) the specification of firefighter safety as an objective of the National Building Code of Canada; and (d) a review of the National Building Code of Canada, in conjunction with the International Association of Firefighters, to identify the most urgent safety issues impacting firefighters and the best means to address them.
He said: It is my great pleasure today to begin debate in the House of Commons on my private member's motion, Motion No. 388, about firefighter safety. After years of patient and persistent presentations to various parliaments by firefighters from every corner of Canada, Motion No. 388 draws together in one motion the three specific requests that Canadian firefighters have been making over the years to achieve greater acknowledgement of the risks inherent in the work they do.
None of us can doubt for a moment how valuable these courageous men and women are. On a routine basis every day, they put their lives on the line so the rest of us can live in safe and secure communities. It is not just about fighting fires, as crucial as that is in itself. It is also about being first responders, the people most likely to be on the scene first in response to all manner of emergency situations. It might be a traffic accident or a hazardous spill. It could be a heart attack or a drowning. It could be a house fire or an industrial blaze, like the one that lit up Winnipeg just a couple of nights ago.
Whenever Canadians reach for the phone and dial 911, they expect top-notch rescuers to be on the road in seconds to help them out of a dangerous situation. Lives are at risk. The circumstances could be and likely are perilous for both the victims and the rescuers alike, but we know we can count on the skill and expertise of Canadian firefighters to respond quickly, in the most effective manner humanly possible and with the bravery and compassion that these situations often demand.
Here is a sobering statistic. Every year in Canada, on average, some 18 firefighters give their lives in the line of duty. On the one hand, some may say that sounds like a low number, but think about it. It means every three weeks somewhere in Canada a firefighter dies on the job, every three weeks, the ultimate sacrifice in service to the public so others can live and be safe. It is appropriate and proper for the Parliament of Canada to examine ways in which the Government of Canada can respond constructively to the three simple ideas that Canadian firefighters have been advancing for years to better promote their safety. It is a matter of common sense and fundamental respect for the invaluable service performed by these members of our society.
These are issues that cut across all party lines, and I am grateful for the support and encouragement for Motion No. 388 that has come from all sides of the House. Let me also thank the International Association of Firefighters and a great many other individual firefighters, both professional and volunteer, along with many other public safety officers in this country, who have endorsed this motion and urge all Canadians to get behind it.
The three points that are covered in Motion No. 388 are as follows. First, the motion recommends to the government the creation of a public safety officer compensation benefit. This would be a one-time payment of $300,000 to be paid by the Government of Canada to the family of a firefighter or any other public safety officer who is killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. In principle, this is not unlike the community heroes fund that was in the public domain for debate a few years ago, and it was a very popular concept.
The idea acknowledges the service and sacrifice of those whose jobs inherently put them at risk to protect the public. It helps to ensure their families are well taken care of. A public safety officer compensation benefit parallels certain provisions in some federal collective agreements—for the military and RCMP, for example—but sadly, most Canadian firefighters are simply not in a position to bargain for a provision like that, or their employers, usually municipal governments, are not in a position to provide it.
Motion No. 388 offers a way to treat all public safety officers equitably, while fully respecting every level of government jurisdiction. The estimated cost of this measure is in the range of just $10 million to $12 million per year. On an annual federal budget of more than $250 billion, the annual cost of a public safety officer compensation benefit is equivalent to the tiniest of rounding errors.
It is also worth noting that a similar benefit has been in effect in the United States for decades, since 1976, a federal benefit provided to all U.S. firefighters at every level as a gesture of national responsibility and respect.
The second major feature of Motion No. 388 deals with the priority lists that are prepared by governments to serve as guides, not binding legal edicts but guides, for the distribution of sometimes limited volumes of vaccines and other drugs during pandemics and other public health emergencies. The basic question is this. Who gets the vaccine first? It is a tough judgment call. Difficult choices have to be made.
In broad terms, when we look at the protocols from previous pandemics, there are three general categories of vaccine recipients. The first is those Canadians who are most vulnerable and at the greatest risk of getting sick, the primary victims. The second category, with virtually equal priority, is those primary health caregivers who take care of those vulnerable people and those at greatest risk. The third is the general public.
Within these broad groupings there are certain subsets, but the concern of firefighters is that this general hierarchy of priorities for receiving vaccines during public health emergencies appears to rank firefighters in the third category, that is with the general public, or at the very bottom of the category about caregivers.
Firefighters submit, and I agree, that as guidance to those who carry the serious responsibility to implement vaccine sequencing during emergencies, firefighters should consistently be at the top of the grouping of caregivers, as is the case in the United States and in many other jurisdictions. I say this for two reasons.
First, at all times, and especially during times of public stress like a pandemic, Canadians need to know their crucial public safety agencies, like fire departments, are fully functional, fully staffed, up to strength and ready to go no matter what. We do not need and we do not want a compromised firefighting system on top of a pandemic.
Second, and even more important, most firefighters are first responders who function as front-line health care workers dealing in raw circumstances with people in trouble in traffic accidents and so many other emergency situations. They do the initial rescue, the assessment, the first aid, the primary treatment.
During a pandemic they will undoubtedly be exposed to people in respiratory distress and suffering other ailments. Firefighters need to be able to do their front line, first responder, health care worker jobs with full confidence and the full assurance that they are as secure and functional as humanely possible. If firefighters cannot do that job at the scene of a public emergency, then at least some of those suffering from pandemic diseases will simply not make it to the doctors and the nurses, who will be waiting for them in the emergency room.
Finally, Motion No. 388 deals with the National Building Code of Canada. It makes the simple and logical point that firefighter safety should be included among the objectives of that code. Is it not already there one might ask? That is a question that a lot of Canadians have asked. The answer is that it is there in the United States and in many other countries, but not clearly in Canada, especially with the advent of rapidly changing construction techniques and building materials.
Twenty-five years ago a typical building might take 15 to 20 minutes of burning before it became a full-fledged blaze. It was obviously an urgent situation, but it left a fair bit of time for firefighters to arrive on the scene and to rescue people and property from the scene of the fire.
Today, what used to take 20 minutes 25 years ago may now just take 3, 4 or 5 minutes. It is not good enough to say building code standards designed for “occupant safety” serve just as well to achieve “firefighter safety”. The two are not the same for this fundamental reason.
While occupants will be doing their very best to get out of a burning building just as fast as they can, firefighters, by the nature of their job, will be going into the building, into the teeth of the blaze to work as long as they can to rescue victims and fight the sources of the fire. That is why “firefighter safety” needs to be specifically included in the code.
That is also why the government needs to review the code, urgently, and to do so in co-operation with firefighters and other experts who can identify the areas that need to be addressed and work on the best possible solutions.
That is it. There are three simple things in Motion No. 388: first, an affordable benefit for the families of public safety officers killed or injured on the job; second, an appropriate high-priority ranking for firefighters to receive vaccines during pandemics, particularly in their critical role as first responders and health care workers; and third, the inclusion of firefighter safety in Canada's national building code.
These measures have huge support among firefighters and most Canadians across the country. They are practical, modest, fair and reasonable. They are consistent with international standards. They are important gestures of respect from the Parliament of Canada to the firefighters of Canada.
I would ask all of my colleagues in the House of Commons to support these measures during this debate and to support Motion M-388 when it comes to a vote later this year.
Ms. Candice Bergen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the chance to speak to the motion that has been put before us today by the member for Wascana.
The motion covers a lot of ground with implications for the Department of Public Safety, Industry Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Part (a) of the motion, which falls under the purview of Public Safety Canada, calls for the creation of a national public safety officer compensation benefit to help the families of firefighters and other public safety officers, which is not defined, who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
Part (b) requests that firefighters and other public safety officers be provided with priority access to vaccines and other drugs in cases of public health emergencies. This would fall within the responsibility of the provinces and territories for implementation. One of my colleagues will be addressing this point in more detail.
Parts (c) and (d), which fall within the focus of Industry Canada, call for changes to the national building code, including specifying firefighter safety as an objective of the code and reviewing the code to identify urgent safety issues for firefighters.
I will focus my remarks today on the public safety aspect, namely that of creating a public safety officer compensation benefit.
Our government has been a strong advocate for our first responders and particularly for our firefighters. All of us in the House agree that our firefighters deserve our respect and support as do our police officers, paramedics and all other emergency and first responders.
Sacrifice, bravery and courage are the words that come to mind when we think of these people. Every shift, they make a conscious choice to save lives, protect their communities, make a difference and put their own lives at risk. When the beeper goes off, when the fire alarm sounds, there is no hesitation. Day or night, firefighters are willing and ready to go to work.
They know that they can face moments of extreme danger where the lives of citizens, their colleagues and certainly their own are at risk. They also experience great moments of pride when they rescue someone and they know that the work they have done has made a huge difference. Firefighters have the mental toughness and courage that is required in these moments, and when they put themselves in harm's way for the rest of us we all stand in gratitude.
We respect their courage and their professionalism. Our government has proudly supported the work of our firefighters along with all of our public safety officers through a variety of initiatives and programs since 2006. For example, in budget 2007, we included a contribution of $2.5 million over five years to the International Association of Fire Fighters to support and implement hazardous material training. This is a worthy investment that has provided thousands of hours of haz-mat training to firefighters and many other first responders right across Canada.
We are very proud that in budget 2011 our government introduced a volunteer firefighters tax credit to support volunteer firefighters who perform at least 200 hours of service for their communities. There are more than 85,000 volunteer firefighters across this country serving in both urban and rural settings. In my riding of Portage—Lisgar, there is no way our communities could be protected if it were not for the volunteer efforts of firefighters, brave men and women who volunteer their time.
Our government has been listening to firefighters. We listened to their concerns and that is why we introduced the volunteer firefighters tax credit. The credit recognizes and supports the critical role that these volunteers play in all of our communities.
We also support first responders through the development of national policies and by supporting consensus-based national code development processes and response systems and standards. For example, our government actively participated in the development of the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives resilience strategy and action plan for Canada, which was launched in January 2011. This plan sets out clear guidelines for policy and decision-makers at all levels of government on how to better prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from any CBRNE event. These guidelines ultimately protect our first responders, including our firefighters.
We also launched the communications interoperability strategy and action plan for Canada in January 2011. The goal of this action plan is straightforward. It is something that first responders have been asking us for and we are listening. The goal is to help first responders respond rapidly to any emergency by allowing them to communicate more effectively and efficiently across jurisdictions. As part of this, Public Safety Canada and the first responder community have urged Industry Canada to set aside dedicated bandwidth for public safety use in the 700 megahertz spectrum auction.
This past June, we announced that an initial 10 megahertz has been secured for this use and this news was widely applauded across the first responder community. We are proud that we have helped to push this issue forward. We are proud that as we work in collaboration with our first responders and firefighters we are getting results for them.
Our government is firmly committed to supporting our firefighters and indeed all of our public safety officers. However, we are also committed to respecting Canada's Constitution and the various authorities that fall within the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. The Liberal Party argued in 2005 that many of the measures that the member for Wascana is proposing today in his private member's motion are more relevant to provincial areas of responsibility. As he must be aware, the creation of a public safety officer compensation benefit is one of them.
As hon. members likely know very well, provinces and territories already have a legal framework in place for occupational health, safety and workers' compensation to provide benefits to the families of workers who are injured or killed on the job. In the United States, labour laws are the jurisdiction of the federal government. In Canada, that jurisdiction lies with the provinces. In many cases, benefits received under these workers' compensation programs are supplemented through collective agreements or group insurance plans that provide compensation for losses incurred due to workplace accidents or death.
Our Conservative government stands up for our front-line public safety officers, especially firefighters. However, in the current climate of fiscal restraint, and with the broad definition of “public safety officers” making an amount pretty well impossible to determine, establishing a fund in excess of $60 million would not be feasible.
It is very interesting that when the member for Wascana was minister of finance he realized this fact, which is why he voted against it in 2005. When he talks about changing circumstances, we are in a time of even greater financial restraint and economic uncertainty. I am very surprised that he is changing his mind without credible reasons. It is important that he stand and speak more clearly on why he voted against this in 2005 and why he now finds it expedient to introduce the motion.
Our government will not be supporting M-388. As is evident by what we have done in the past and what we continue to do, we support our firefighters with tangible efforts that help them do their jobs and that recognize the volunteer work they do. However, we will not go into jurisdictions that are not ours. We will be consistent with our federal jurisdiction and federal responsibilities. The proposed changes found within the motion would be more relevant to provincial jurisdictions and that is why we will not support changes to the areas that would fall under the authority of provincial and territorial governments.
I therefore respectfully ask that all members would oppose the motion. Let us continue to work for firefighters and first responders, but the motion is not the way to do it.
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to praise my colleague from Wascana. I do not do it very often in the House even though we have a long association. I will in this particular case, however, with the caveat that I am praising him for presenting a motion that is very similar to the motion that I presented in the House in October 2005. At that time he voted against firefighters and public safety officers, but he has obviously gone through the Liberal rehabilitation program. As a result today I praise him. Even though it is retroactive, he is now making amends for his vote that I think was misplaced seven years ago.
There is no doubt that this is needed. The House made the decision seven years ago when members of Parliament voted 161:112 to bring in a public safety officer compensation fund. I am praising my colleague from Wascana. I unfortunately cannot praise my Conservative colleagues across the floor because, to my mind, they have done a tremendous disservice to the nation's firefighters and public safety officers by having voted for the NDP motion in 2005, but steadfastly refusing since that time to bring in the public safety officer compensation fund.
I know this because every year the nation's firefighters and police officers come to the Hill to speak to members of Parliament, every single year. In the case of firefighters, it has been 15 years asking a very simple thing. All they are asking is that the federal government provide some support for their families if they die in the line of duty. Is that too much to ask?
Is it too much to ask when Conservatives already, prior to a federal election, said that they supported the principle of a public safety officer compensation fund and now, seven years later, have steadfastly refused to keep their commitment to firefighters?
I have yet another letter from yet another cabinet minister seven years after the fact. I have been writing to the ministers every year as firefighters and police officers gather on Parliament Hill to ask one simple thing, that we take care of their families. This time the Minister of Public Safety is saying that while he values the extraordinary contributions made by these first responders, he will do nothing to take care of their families. I am paraphrasing, but that is the incredible reality of this punch in the face to the nation's firefighters and police officers.
Having brought this motion to the House seven years ago, I know there is a desperate and real need out there. I have spoken to firefighters' families and to police officers' families. I have heard about what happens when they cannot buy life insurance, when there is no provincial or municipal support. When firefighters die in the line of duty their families have to cope not only with the terrible loss of their loved ones but also the incredibly severe financial consequences that come from that.
I have talked to families who had to sell their homes when their loved ones, firefighters, died trying to save others. I talked to kids who, instead of going on to university or college, have had to take a low-wage or minimum wage job. They have given up on their careers because their firefighter or police officer loved one has died and the federal government does nothing to support them. These are compounding tragedies.
When that loved one passes away, the incredible shock and intense grieving that the family lives through is compounded by the incredible neglect of the Conservative government, which has refused for six years to implement what Parliament told it to put into place.
I am sorry, but regardless of the beautiful speeches about standing with our responders and standing with our nation's firefighters or police officers, Conservatives will not have credibility in the House of Commons until they bring forward the public safety officer compensation fund and support those families. That is what they need to do.
We are talking about an amount of $300,000. This is not an enormous amount. It is an amount that would allow a family to cope financially with the incredible grieving and shock of losing a loved one. The United States has had it in place for a decade. It takes care of the nation's firefighters and police officers who cannot get insurance, who do not have access to the magic provincial and municipal programs that the government likes to talk about. It is a shameless passing of the buck for the Conservative government to tell the nation's firefighters and police officers that it will not take care of them, that somebody else may but that it will not, particularly in light of the motion that was adopted with the Conservatives saying that they would support firefighters and police officers. It is a shameless and irresponsible dereliction of duty.
We owe it to our nation's firefighters and police officers to put in place compensation. I have heard the Conservatives say that it costs too much money. We have heard the refrain since the House resumed that we cannot have food safety because it costs too much money, that we cannot have transportation safety because it costs too much money. However, It is the same government that is willing to spend up to $40 billion for the F-35s with an untendered contract. It is absolutely shameless when the government has been so inept at managing the nation's finances. We have a record deficit because of the massive spending projects like the F-35s and yet the Conservatives cannot take care of the nation's firefighters and police officers.
On this side of the House, we disagree. On this side of the House, we believe that the motion passed in 2005 is a moral obligation and duty on behalf of every Conservative member to ensure that public safety officer compensation fund is put in place. We believe it is a duty and a promise that must be kept. That is why every New Democrat will stand in support of this motion with the hope that this motion will pass. I fail to see how the Conservatives could possibly let the nation's firefighters and police officers down yet again. I think that would be a profound insult, which I hope the public would severely punish the Conservative members for doing.
We will stand in the House and vote for this motion. We hope the Conservatives will stand in the House and vote again for the motion, vote again for the public safety officer compensation fund, but, much more important, we are hoping that, finally, after six years of broken promises and meaningless words, the Conservatives will finally walk the talk and ensure that this is put into place so that when families are grieving they can also count on having a minimum of financial benefit to ensure their families are taken care of.
The firefighters and police officers of Canada do not ask for a lot. They put their lives on the line every day in the line of duty. Every day they hope to save lives and the public is with them because the public understands that we have a moral responsibility to take care of their families when they pass away in the line of duty. I am hoping that all the Conservatives will vote for this motion, that they will keep their commitment and that in the next month we will have in place a public safety officer compensation fund for Canada's firefighters and police officers.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to the motion. I want to congratulate my friend and colleague from Wascana for putting this motion forward and giving us an opportunity speak to it.
I have to admit that I have been both surprised and pleased with some of the comments that have come forward in the debate thus far. To have my friend from Burnaby—Douglas actually commend the member for Wascana, I was pleased and surprised with that one. I was almost as surprised as was when I listened to the parliamentary secretary from the government side address the House and not hear the words, “$21 billion job-killing carbon tax”. I am sure she is in the woodshed behind the PMO now for not having taken the opportunity to throw that one out there.
Mr. Kevin Sorenson: We're glad you mentioned it, Rodger.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner: Whatever I can do.
This is absolutely an important motion. For the last number of years, the International Association of Firefighters has done an exemplary job of putting its views and issues before parliamentarians. Each week that we come to the Hill or go to our constituency offices we are in a constant state of meeting with various groups and organizations, but the firefighters have been consistent year after year. They are truly professional when they meet with members of Parliament. They have seen small victories but each year the game continues to move down the field, almost like my golf game, a little side to side, but, hopefully, we are making progress. This motion is an opportunity to recognize that their efforts over these past years have not gone unnoticed, because they have been consistent in their messaging, obviously because it means so much to so many.
What we hear in debate with any legislation that comes forward with regard to first responders and firefighters is the fact that they are so involved in the community. I come from a fairly rural community. I have 50 volunteer fire departments in my riding in a great number of smaller communities. They are all the core of those communities, like Dominion, Reserve Mines, Port Morien, Port Hood and Port Hastings. Whether it is a community festival, an event or someone in need, the firefighters are the people we go to.
That is all well and fine, but there are many organizations within communities that do those types of honourable things for their fellow citizens. Where these men and women stand apart is the risk that is inherent in what they do. As has been mentioned, they are the ones who are running into the building when everyone else is running out. They lay it on the line for their fellow citizens. They are tasked with a job, a career in some cases, although, in many cases, like my own situation, many of these people are volunteers, but there is so much expected of them beyond what is expected of other people in communities and it is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
One of the aspects of the motion, being engaged in building code development, is that it properly takes into account first responder safety issues in building designs and materials. That would go a long way in ensuring that at least when they go into a particular building there is chance of recognizing the materials being used so that they know what they will be battling when they get in there.
That would be one aspect of the physical part of what is expected of them that could be addressed through the adoption of this motion.
If the people here in the chamber want to get a really good sense of what it is that firefighters go through, they should pick up a copy of the book written by Russell Wangersky called Burning Down the House. I could lend a copy to my friend and colleague in the Conservative Party. It is a great read. It is about a firefighter who had dreamed about being a firefighter his whole life. He went to Acadia University and started to work as a volunteer firefighter there. He went through various levels of training and became a firefighter.
Sometimes people delineate between a volunteer and a professional firefighter but when the alarm goes off and the truck is on the way there is an expectation that those volunteer firefighters know what the heck they are doing. Quite often the training for volunteer firefighters is pretty much the same as that for the professional firefighters because there is an expectation that they will be well-trained and ready to perform when they get to the scene of a fire or whatever else they are asked to do.
In his book, Russell Wangersky said that it was not too bad when he was in the valley going to university and volunteering there. However, when he went back home he said that it was really tough. He remembers being called into a situation as a first responder. His best friend's father was having a heart attack. He showed up at the scene and had to try to revive his friend's father. The emotional impact of going through a situation like that is sometimes not taken into account. When these firefighters, these first responders, show up at the scene of a car accident, they can be asked to scrape a 17-year-old kid off the dash of a car. That is not normal for any citizen other than these first responders.
One can only imagine what firefighters go through emotionally, mentally and spiritually when they are on the back of a truck going to a fire. Their may be given more information about it being a house fire and that kids are in the house. We can imagine the heart rate of everyone in that vehicle going up.
That is something that we do not ask of other citizens but we expect our first responders to handle that type of thing. That is why they stand alone. That is why they stand apart.
The first part of this motion deals with the public safety officer compensation fund. A firefighter's family should know that there will be some kind of help, some kind of assistance should everything go wrong or should something not work out and the firefighter loses his or her life. We could at lease give the families the comfort of knowing that their federal government will be there with them, standing with them in appreciation and support.
I would hope that each and every member of this chamber searches their soul and finds a way to support this motion.
Ms. Kellie Leitch (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion put forward by the member for Wascana. The motion focuses on an area of great importance to the government, the protection of the health of Canadians and the role firefighters play in this.
Today I would like to use my time to speak to part (b) of Motion No. 388. Part (b) of the motion calls on the Government of Canada to recognize firefighters in their vital role as first responders, as an integral part of Canada's critical infrastructure. It calls on the government to recognize firefighters as health care workers under the Canada Influenza Pandemic Plan, entitled to priority access to vaccines and other drugs in cases of pandemics and other public health emergencies.
Before I begin, I also want to thank the Standing Committee on Health for having adopted a motion to undertake a study that will enable Canadians to better understand how various jurisdictions deal with their vaccine priority lists during pandemics. The study is taking place this week, and I understand the committee has heard from several witnesses, including representatives from the provinces and territories as well as from firefighters.
Clearly, our government recognizes the crucial role firefighters play in protecting Canadians. Firefighters serve our communities and our country with incredible dedication. They put their lives at risk to protect Canadians.
This government and I are supportive and appreciative of all that firefighters do for our society on a daily basis. As a trauma surgeon myself, I have been on site with these individuals when they have done their heroic tasks, and I have quite frequently, unfortunately, been the recipient of the patients they have brought to the emergency room.
People like Wayne McKean from the town of Blue Mountain or Bob McKean, the deputy in Clearview, Michael McWilliam, our chief in Wasaga Beach or Trent Elyea and Carrie and Terry Weatherup, both from Everett, serve as volunteer firefighters. These individuals benefit from the volunteer firefighter tax credit this government has put forward.
From a public health perspective, every one of us plays a role in working together to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Infectious diseases, for example, do not recognize borders, religions, culture, politics or jurisdictions. They impact every one of us, whether we are infected or not, and our responses to these emergencies must have the same broad scope. Whether we are part of a community, a business, a school or a hospital, whether we are a first responder like a firefighter, a policeman or an emergency medical service individual like me, or whether we are government officials, we all have a role to play.
The federal government's role is one of leadership. We work closely with other jurisdictions to develop national guidelines to help inform provinces', territories' and community responses. It is the first responders, the hospitals, nurses and physicians and the communities that deal first with public health emergencies. Our national guidelines must provide them with sufficient flexibility to allow for a tailored response that takes into account a community's specific circumstances as well as the characteristics of the emergency. I can tell the House first-hand that this flexibility is extremely important.
Local authorities prepare and respond to emergencies using the resources they have available at that moment, and appropriately so. When an emergency exceeds local capacity or it becomes too large in scope, provinces and territories as well as the federal government assist in response efforts.
In a pandemic, an important role for the federal government is to provide advice and guidance to provinces and territories, to provide pan-Canadian frameworks for preparedness and response. Provinces and territories develop and implement their own plans based on their priorities and the needs at the moment.
For example, the Government of Canada provides guidance to assist provinces and territories in determining priority access to antivirals or vaccines in influenza pandemic situations. Our recommendations are then used by the provinces and territories to make decisions on priority access. All of this is done on a local and unique basis in pandemic circumstances.
We believe that the country's ability to come together in the face of dire circumstances is exceptionally strong. We have done it before. We saw this particularly in our successful response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, during which all sectors of our country pulled together. Working in a hospital myself at that time, I can tell members that the work everyone did was truly amazing, coming together.
Put simply, a one-size-fits-all approach to something as multifaceted and complex as a pandemic simply would not work. At that point in time I was working in two different centres. We had different responses at the two centres. We had to be flexible. We had to accommodate local needs. Only people in the province, territory and those local areas can make those decisions.
In short, during H1N1 it was all about working in tandem, hand-in-hand with local authorities, provinces and all other partners to manage this global public health crisis, recognizing our connections and shared roles, and we succeeded. We had learned from the SARS outbreak in 2003.
The Government of Canada now knows that we have some of those right tools in place. We needed to quickly produce and distribute vaccines and have ventilators and a stockpile of antivirals at the ready to support the provinces, territories and municipalities responsible for those first responders, like firefighters and police officers, so those on the ground can make the decisions they need to make at the moment. We knew we needed to keep building on that plan, to keep it in place, adapting in a real-time way.
Like much of the reality firefighters face in their day-to-day work, each day during H1N1 jurisdictions had to respond quickly to emerging situations. Having a plan and the relationships in place allowed us to collectively focus and address these issues.
Comparing 2003 and 2009, the difference in the response was overwhelming. It was co-ordinated in 2009. In 2003, some of us on the ground were pretty scared about how that would be addressed.
We are very fortunate to have a solid network that links all of these players with provincial, territorial and federal governments and stakeholders.
As part of our public health structure in Canada, the public health network provides a tool, unique in the world, for improving collaboration across jurisdictions, for keeping us on the same page and working toward the same ends, integrating policy with practice. It is a means of helping us navigate the various jurisdictional waters by bringing together all jurisdictions to the same table on the same public health issues for consistent messaging to Canadians, something that was essential for our response in 2009.
A big part of the network's success is that its structure embraces the basic notion that public health is about the power of the collective. As I have said, we have all had a role to play when responding to emergency public health events.
The Public Health Network has enabled planning and collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial governments. It has supported our collaborative decision-making processes in all aspects of pandemic preparedness and response, from investing in vaccines and antiviral stockpiles, to surge capacity, to prevention and early warnings, to research and critical science.
H1N1 was an important test for our response capacities on all levels, and our country responded effectively. From the beginning of the outbreak, the government committed to an inclusive national pandemic response to mitigate the risks to Canadians.
This government, provincial and territorial governments, national aboriginal organizations, health professional associations, non-governmental associations, members of Canada's influenza academic research community and private sector representatives all pulled together.
We can be proud that Canada's H1N1 immunization rate is among the highest in the world, a sign of our collective ability to encourage all Canadians to be protected against the influenza virus.
As I noted today, the involvement of all governments and stakeholders is critical to the successful mitigation of the effects of any pandemic, which knows no borders and can spread quickly.
The Canadian pandemic influenza plan for the health sector, developed in collaboration with provinces and territories, outlines the roles and responsibilities of all levels of government during a pandemic.
Canada's response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic was guided by this plan. The implementation of any recommendations on priority access would fall within the jurisdictions of the provinces and the territories. This is very clearly outlined, and I have to say from personal experience, it is extremely important that the provinces, the territories and local communities make these decisions. This needs to be carefully considered in the context of the motion.
Furthermore, recommendations on priority access to vaccines and antivirals have to be based on sound principles. The immediate priority is to target those who are at the greatest risk and those who could benefit the most from the vaccine and antivirals. In some cases, it may be seniors, young children or pregnant women. In other cases it may be health care workers or other first-line responders. These recommendations cannot be determined out of context. They have to be made at the time when one is standing with the patient.
While the response of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was an overall success, our government is committed to maintaining and improving our ability to prepare and respond to these emergencies. Lessons learned from H1N1 are important considerations.
A number of reviews have been conducted. These reviews are reflective of the high priority this government has placed on our preparedness. That is why the Minister of Health asked the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology to undertake a review on pandemic preparedness.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that this government appreciates the important role firefighters play in protecting Canadians. They are an integral part of Canada's critical infrastructure and are respected for the job they do every single day.
I would also like to stress that the federal government provides advice to the provinces and territories. It is the local implementation and the decisions that have to be made on the ground at the moment of the crisis that are the most important. Those need to be made by the provinces, territories and communities. Every jurisdiction is different and we need to respect those jurisdictions.