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Speaking Notes for The Honourable Chuck Strahl, PC, MP Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians The Communications Protocol: Working Together on H1N1 Preparedness
September 19, 2009
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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m pleased to be taking part in this important announcement today.
As we all know, fall is fast approaching and the flu season is virtually upon us. Now is the time for Canadians to take the necessary steps to help control the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. Now is the time for us to make sure that, if illnesses do occur, we are in the best position possible to get people the care they need.
This communication protocol between the Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Assembly of First Nations is an important part of this effort.
It commits all partners to plan for, and respond quickly and effectively to, an H1N1 flu virus pandemic in First Nation communities. It identifies each partner’s responsibilities and the roles they are ideally suited to play with respect to pandemic planning and communications. And it identifies the specific areas in hich all partners must and will work closely together.
One leader who has taken-and will continue to take-decisive action to help Canadians fight the H1N1 flu virus is my colleague, Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq. I want to salute Minister Aglukkaq for her hard work and excellent leadership.
And of course I also salute National Chief Atleo who I’ve known for quite some time. He’s been a leader in British Columbia and has now moved on to the national stage leading the Assembly of First Nations as they work with the government on many different levels. I want to salute Mr. Atleo for your leadership, not only in this file, but on many other things that you were tasked with.
The communication protocol that we are signing this morning is a logical extension of a joint action plan undertaken by Health Canada and my department. The Health Canada – Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Joint Action Plan outlines the specific actions we will take together in the event of an H1N1 flu-virus pandemic in First Nations communities.
My department is taking concrete steps at all levels and in all regions to support Health Canada’s role in pandemic planning for First Nation communities.
For instance, in Atlantic Region we are working with St. Mary’s University to develop robust Business Continuity Plans for First Nations. We’ve also worked with provincial fire marshal’s office in each of the four Atlantic provinces to ensure the continuation of fire and emergency services in the event of a health emergency in a First Nation community. We are doing this in every other region of the country as well.
In Manitoba, we have partnered closely with Health Canada and First Nations organizations to provide training for community pandemic coordinators, such as one recently held with Southern Chiefs Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakinak. In addition, we have provided First Nations with tools such as the incident command system, emergency operation centres, and the knowledge for community-level organization during a pandemic emergency.
In Saskatchewan, we are hosting a First Nations Emergency Management Forum in early November. This forum will include all Saskatchewan First Nations, Tribal Councils, and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and will cover “all-hazard community emergency planning” and pandemic planning. This session will ensure we have the best and most complete plans in place in the region, as well as provide some basic emergency training.
In Ontario, we’ve worked with Emergency Management Ontario in the distribution of letters to all First Nations in the province, with guidance on updating their community emergency plans. We are working in all parts of the country with our partners in order to get other types of information into the communities as well.
In Quebec, a guide for writing business continuity plans has been developed by the Quebec Regional Office and shared with each of the First Nations in Quebec. This guide will help them to identify and deliver essential services to their community members.
In British Columbia, we’ve created ‘i-Teams’. These teams are comprised of 50 trained, multi-disciplinary emergency response personnel who can be deployed to deal with all types of issues that may arise due to a pandemic event.
In B.C., as in every other region, should critical infrastructure such as water and sewers be affected, we can deploy circuit rider contractors to ensure continuity of these essential services.
In Alberta, we are participating in a Pandemic Influenza Communications Tabletop Exercise with other government departments, the province and all Alberta First Nations at the end of September. Tabletop exercises are already being undertaken in my department and we’re preparing for a departmental-wide exercise as well. We will be prepared.
In the north, we’re working with territorial governments, Health Canada and Emergency Measures Organizations to ensure that Inuit and Northerners have comparable health and emergency services to communities south of 60. And INAC is working with the territorial governments on an information campaign on H1N1 and basic hygiene procedures to avoid the flu.
In all regions we are identifying INAC personnel who can be deployed to assist Health Canada and First Nation communities; we’re identifying storage space for stockpiling medical supplies; and we’re co-ordinating transportation in and out of First Nation communities.
The Government of Canada also understands that dealing with immediate concerns is only one part of the challenge. First Nation communities must be strong, healthy and prosperous – not only to prevent further flu pandemics, but also to enhance overall quality of life.
What do I mean by healthy communities? I mean communities with safe homes, good schools, clean drinking water and reliable wastewater systems. Communities that provide social services that emphasize the needs of children and families. Communities with solid infrastructure: not just roads and bridges, but also recreation facilities and safe gathering places for families to meet, celebrate and enjoy life.
Far too many First Nation communities lack these vital requirements and our government is taking action to remedy the situation.
When we came to office in 2006, we inherited 193 First Nation water systems that were identified as high risk. This Conservative government and the Assembly of First Nations said enough was enough… we launched a collaborative action plan to improve the quality of water available to residents of First Nation communities. As a result, we’ve reduced the number of high-risk systems from 193 to 58. And of the 21 communities that had both high-risk systems and drinking-water advisories in place, only four communities remain in that situation today.
I raise this example because it shows what can be accomplished through careful planning, prudent investments, effective action and ongoing vigilance.
Through Canada’s Economic Action Plan, we’re working with people in First Nation communities across the country to construct new schools, build new social housing, support partnerships and programs that deliver services to children and families, and improve the quality and availability of homes on reserves.
And while money is an important factor in our approach, we know that money alone won’t enable us to help build strong, healthy communities. We get a much better return on investment when we work with our partners to develop practical solutions and take strategic and realistic steps that have a measurable impact on the lives of Aboriginal people.
This communication protocol is an example of this proven approach. We are working together – governments and First Nations – to overcome the challenges presented by the H1N1 flu virus. As a result of these efforts, I am confident that we are well prepared.
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