Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 8 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Tuesday, May 2, 2000
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance met this day at 9:33 a.m.
to continue its study of Canada's Emergency and Disaster Preparedness.
Senator Lowell Murray (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, this morning we have witnesses from three
organizations. We will begin with the president and the manager of Marketing and
Promotion of the Canada Safety Council, Emile Therien and Ethel Archard
Mr. Emile Therien, President, Canada Safety Council: Honourable senators,
thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you. The Canada Safety
Council is Canada's national, not-for-profit safety organization. Our mission is
to lead in the national effort to reduce preventable death, injury and economic
loss, with a focus on traffic, work, home, community and, of course, leisure.
Our main programs address education and public awareness and are supported by
behind-the-scenes activities that further the cause of safety.
As a safety organization, our priority is accident prevention. However, we
emphasize that Canadians must protect themselves from serious injuries should an
accident occur. Seat belts are a prime example. Wearing a seat belt will not
prevent you from getting into a crash, but it will probably save your life if
you are involved in one.
Prevention is also the focus for emergency and disaster preparedness. The top
priority is to prevent disasters from happening. If that is not possible, the
priority is to mitigate or lessen their impact.
I will use traffic safety as a model. In the early 1970s, about 7,000
Canadians were killed every year in traffic accidents in this country. That
should qualify as a national disaster, although the deaths did not happen in a
single catastrophic event. Last year, despite more than twice the number of
vehicles and licensed drivers on the road, there were fewer than 3,000 road
fatalities in this country. Governments at all levels have invested considerable
resources to make this progress possible.
What we call the "three E's of safety" apply just as well to
emergency and disaster preparedness as they do to traffic safety. The first
"E" is engineering: the engineering of roads and vehicles to prevent
and mitigate accidents. The second "E" is enforcement: developing
appropriate legislation and ensuring that it is enforced. The third
"E" is education: educating the population on risks and on how to
In general, an emergency is an imminent or unexpected threat on life or
property. A disaster is a very serious event. This nation must be prepared for
various types of large-scale emergencies and disasters. For example: extreme
weather, including floods, tornadoes and severe winter storms; natural disasters
such as earthquakes; transportation disasters such as plane, bus and train
crashes and multi-vehicle pile-ups on roadways; industrial accidents such as
chemical spills and nuclear waste accidents; large fires including forest fires
and industrial fires involving dangerous substances; mass murders and attempted
murders through shootings, bombings and poisoning; and last, but not least, war.
In some cases, losses can be minimized if the emergency is identified
immediately or if measures have been taken to prevent or control a predicted
catastrophe. However, once an incident has occurred, resources must obviously be
dedicated to respond. We will focus on prevention as we believe many benefits
can be realized at that level.
The federal government has invested and continues to invest considerable
resources to prevent disasters from occurring. For instance, our firearms
legislation is one of the reasons we believe that Canada has far fewer mass
shootings than the United States. We know through our involvement with Transport
Canada that the transportation of dangerous goods has a high priority.
Reasonable safety countermeasures are the key to prevention programs. The
government is to be commended on its commitment to prevention.
With regard to local first responders, the Canada Safety Council works with
police, firefighters and others who are also first responders to local
incidents. They handle the day-to-day emergencies, such as 911 calls, and will
be called upon if there is a major disaster or emergency in any community. Major
disasters are mostly local in nature. Local agencies are the first responders.
In events such as a major hotel fire, a mass shooting or a multi-vehicle crash,
there may be no opportunity or time to call in the Armed Forces or other outside
help before significant damage is done.
To be prepared for the unexpected, communities must have strong, well-funded
police, fire and ambulance services. The services that handle the small-scale
emergencies also handle the big ones. They must be adequately staffed and
trained because they are always the first line of defence, which may be aided
after the fact by the Department of National Defence.
Of course, we recognize the need for fiscal restraint at all levels of
government in this country. However, expenditures and cutbacks must be planned
with safety as the top priority. Budgets for police, fire and ambulance services
must not be jeopardized. Those services must be part of the decision-making
process whenever safety is at issue.
To use taxes for the greatest public benefit, local governments need an
integrated plan for public safety that serves the community as a whole. The
priority must be to implement proven safety measures and maintain essential
services. Expensive but politically expedient projects -- and I am using traffic
calming here as an example -- must not take priority over operational support
for vital agencies.
In particular, we must not cut prevention programs: for example, school
programs that teach young children to prevent and respond to emergencies,
recognize risks, and protect themselves and others from harm. We are pleased to
note that many schools in this country now offer first aid instruction. That
practice must continue and expand.
Our organization offers resources to help police, health educators,
firefighters and others teach children about safety. Funding for these programs
is usually very tight, so they rely on the Canada Safety Council to help them
deliver their safety messages by providing materials free of charge. We, in
turn, find sponsorships from the public and private sector, including some
federal government departments. Elmer the Safety Elephant is the Canada Safety
Council's trademark character, and I am pleased to say that a major
private-sector sponsor is now funding many Elmer programs.
This Council is a partner with Transport Canada and the Railway Association
of Canada in Operation Lifesaver, a safety program that reaches half a million
elementary school children every year, delivered by railway police and
volunteers. There has been an impressive drop in train-related injuries and
fatalities since its inception. This is a good example of a program funded
jointly by the public and private sectors that has prevented many formerly
commonplace tragedies, a cost-effective investment of taxpayers' money.
We encourage the federal government to support non-governmental organizations
that develop risk awareness among children and prepare them to deal with
emergencies. The subject matter must not be restricted to large-scale incidents.
Preparing children for all risks and emergencies should be the issue. An
investment in child safety education will go a long way to creating a culture of
risk awareness, providing skills and awareness to handle a major incident.
To summarize this section of our presentation, preventing and preparing for
small-scale accidents and emergencies is critical if Canada is to prevent and
prepare for large-scale catastrophes. Governments at all levels must put a
priority on adequate funding for agencies responsible for emergencies on a
day-to-day basis and for prevention education programs.
My next subject is communication. At the local level, one of the big
challenges is to inform the public as soon as a danger is identified in order to
allow people to protect themselves. A system must be in place to localize urgent
alert messages automatically. Communication is critical in any emergency or
disaster. The private sector can help alert a specific community of extreme
weather or other emergencies. In addition to existing alliances with radio
stations and others, implementing all-channel alert capacity for cable
television would increase the reach of urgent information. Such a system is
being proposed to the CRTC by a Canadian company called Pelmorex Communications,
whose technology can intercept all channels distributed by a cable company and
overlay a warning message on the television screen to alert viewers to an
impending emergency, no matter which channel they are watching.
Such capability has existed in the United States for many years. We
understand this new Canadian technology is far more cost-effective than the U.S.
system, which was put in place during the Cold War. In the interests of public
safety, we hope the CRTC will approve the Pelmorex application. Canada has long
been a world leader in communications technology, and we must ensure the most
effective communications systems are in place to protect our citizens.
My next subject is mitigation. The Canada Safety Council endorses proposals
for further investment in mitigating natural disasters. In this regard, we
reference the analysis of the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Institute for
Catastrophic Loss Reduction, which call upon governments at all levels to invest
in mitigation. The government's own consultations support the recommendations of
those organizations, which represent private insurers. Those recommendations
include a commitment from all levels of government to create a pool of funds for
projects to increase the capacity of local communities to evade extensive damage
caused by severe weather and earthquakes. The federal government's new
infrastructure program should include provisions to encourage investment in
improved protection from natural disasters. The recommendations also include
expansion of the current disaster recovery financial assistance arrangements to
allot a reasonable percentage of response for recovery cost to protect against
further disaster. This type of program has been in place in the United States
for many years.
Governments have a responsibility to enforce and promote legislation to
prevent and mitigate catastrophes. Such measures include regulations on
dangerous substances, building codes and regulations, and control of human
factors such as firearm accessibility and terrorist activity. I would like to
emphasize that legislation will not achieve its intended purpose unless it is
enforced and unless the population is aware of it.
In conclusion, this country has a good track record for effective emergency
response and recovery. We urge this very important committee to keep in mind
that our country's ability to address large-scale incidents is founded on our
ability to address day-to-day ones. That requires a strong local infrastructure
-- services as well as structures -- and an informed and educated public.
Senator Finnerty: How extensive is your involvement with the Transport Canada
council? What is entailed when one is transporting dangerous goods?
Mr. Therien: The Canada Safety Council is a member of the Advisory Council on
the Transportation of Dangerous Goods. That involves about 30 major stakeholders
across this country, from safety groups like us to the Canadian Association of
Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, the Canadian
Association of Petroleum Producers. It is a very balanced group that represents
all the key stakeholders. The committee is very well run. It was formed as a
result of the Grange commission investigating the Mississauga spill.
Senator Mahovlich: In Toronto this past weekend, I saw two huge transport
trucks overturned in different accidents. I am wondering if these drivers can
get their licences in a five-and-dime store. Is there anything regulating these
licences? Do those drivers know how to drive?
Mr. Therien: I would like to think they are legally licensed by whatever
jurisdiction, whether Canadian or American, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, or
Senator Mahovlich: The drivers have to be careful. Those vehicles are huge
Mr. Therien: You have to understand that most of the trucks on the road now
are owned by independent operators. It is in the interests of each businessman
to ensure that his truck is well maintained and that the driver is fully capable
of driving it.
Senator Mahovlich: He has to know how to load the truck properly. If the
driver makes a turn and the truck is leaning one way, it can easily turn over.
Mr. Therien: I do not want to alarm you any further, but you must take note
that there are 20,000 large rigs that travel the corridor from Windsor to Quebec
City every day.
Senator Mahovlich: They all take the 401. They do not use the new toll
Mr. Therien: At the top of Toronto, the route from Pickering to the cut-off
at 403 down to Hamilton is the busiest artery in North America. Four hundred
thousand vehicles travel that every day. When we talk about a natural disaster
involving a multi-car pile-up, that is what we are talking about. If the
incident near Windsor last year regarding the fog had happened within the city
of Windsor or at the top of Toronto on the 401, that would have been a major
disaster, because there was a fire and a toxic spill.
Senator Mahovlich: Is it easy to get a licence or does one have to go to
school for a year?
Mr. Therien: There is another factor: the insurers actually insure this
equipment and they are pretty demanding. You get your best rates based on your
Senator Mahovlich: And such accidents still happen?
Mr. Therien: They still happen. It is not an excuse, but there are many big
trucks out there. That is a result of NAFTA. Within a 500-mile radius, a truck
is the most efficient way to transport goods. They are now finding that that
radius, to a great extent, has been extended to 1,000 miles.
Senator Finnerty: They should be forced to use the railroads.
Mr. Therien: I think the truckers would have a problem with that.
Senator Mahovlich: I know they would have a problem with that, but eventually
they will have to get back to track if things keep going this way.
Mr. Therien: It is predicted that within the next ten years 50,000 big trucks
will use the Windsor-Quebec City corridor every day.
The Chairman: On the point of Senator Mahovlich, do you concern yourselves
with such issues as the training of drivers and with the policy and regulations
relating to the length of time that drivers may operate their vehicles?
Mr. Therien: We provide a program to truckers and other professional drivers
called the Professional Driving Improvement Course. Most truckers take the
course. Normally they are required to do so by their insurer or the underwriter
for their vehicles.
The Chairman: I presume that the number of consecutive hours a driver may
operate his vehicle is regulated by the province?
Mr. Therien: It is no longer just an interprovincial matter because many of
these vehicles travel to the United States. We are considering one standard that
affects all of North America, and that is very difficult.
The Chairman: In a situation where a rig leaves a city in the United States
and arrives at the Canadian border, do the authorities in Ontario know how long
that driver has been at the wheel?
Mr. Therien: There have been incidents where drivers have left Florida and
arrived in Montreal by driving straight through. I believe that takes
approximately 20 hours.
You must understand that most of these drivers would not put their
livelihoods at risk or do something that would impair their ability to drive.
Senator Mahovlich referred to the two in Toronto. Those rigs cost $250,000;
therefore, if they go off the road and wreck their rig, they will risk losing
The Chairman: What is the regulation with regard to length of time at the
Mr. Therien: It is 10 hours.
The Chairman: It is 10 hours at the wheel, and then what?
Mr. Therien: At least eight hours off.
The Chairman: Is that observed or enforced?
Mr. Therien: It is a matter of self-policing by the independent operators,
because, as I said, they must conform; otherwise, they have a problem.
The Chairman: Well, there are independent operators and then there are
independent operators, are there not?
Mr. Therien: For the large fleets it is definitely enforced.
The Chairman: It may not be the large fleets that we are concerned about.
Senator Moore: Mr. Therien, is there any national standard that sets out the
specifics for size, shape and maintenance of mud flaps on these large trucks? I
am thinking of the spray and materials flying off. I have seen some that are
maintained, some that are not. Some mud flaps look like they have been picked up
from various companies whose names are on them, and they are mixed and matched,
different sizes, heights and widths.
Is there a national standard on mud flaps and is there something that your
organization would look to as being a way of preventing debris from flying off?
When these trucks pick up stones and flip them back it is more serious than when
a passenger vehicle does it, and it is more likely to happen because of the
width of a truck's combination of tires. Could you comment on that?
Mr. Therien: I am not sure if there is a national standard in place. As you
say, it is probably a promotion on the part of a manufacturer of a rig. Most
trucks do have mud flaps but I am not sure if there is a national standard.
Senator Moore: Do you think it might be a good idea to pursue a national
standard on mud flaps?
Mr. Therien: It would be a good idea to pursue anything that might protect
other vehicles. Part of the problem with the trucking industry in this country,
and primarily in Ontario, was the whole issue of flying wheels. The Government
of Ontario remedied that in rather rapid time and we have reached the point
where there are no more flying wheels, we hope.
Senator Moore: Could the same words be applied to something that would be
further preventative? Is that something that your organization would pursue?
Mr. Therien: We pursue many of these issues because we have a close alliance
with the railway industry and also with the trucking industry. We know that,
from both their perspectives, safety is a major priority.
Senator Moore: I believe it would be worthwhile and interesting for your
organization to pursue this.
My second question relates to natural disasters. Do you feel we are now
prepared to deal with an incident similar to the ice storm we had a couple of
years ago, of the same or greater intensity?
Mr. Therien: The ice storm was a good learning experience. Being from Ottawa
and having seen how fire and police departments reacted, I was tremendously
impressed. I believe Canadians have a high level of confidence in their local
emergency departments: police, fire, ambulance, and other. The response to the
ice storm in Ottawa was phenomenally good.
Senator Moore: Therefore, you feel we would be prepared today to handle such
Mr. Therien: The ice storm brought about an awareness that disaster planning
is important for local agencies.
Senator Mahovlich: Are you saying that all the farmers have their generators
Mr. Therien: Many farmers have their generators now.
The Chairman: To return to the question of highway transport for a moment,
Mr. Beaumier, from the parliamentary research branch of the library, who is
supporting the committee in its study, tells me that across the North American
continent the driver of a rig is required to keep a log, he is required to keep
it up to date, and he is required to produce it on demand by the authorities at
the border or by a police officer or whomever. That is the situation, is it not?
Mr. Therien: There is no question about that. Technology is coming to the
fore more and more. Satellite transmissions can determine the location of these
rigs and how many kilometres they have driven in a day. The technology has
advanced to enable the recording of the number of kilometres driven in a day,
the maintenance record of the truck and other factors into central data banks.
The Chairman: Mr. Therien, a few weeks ago there was a shipload of nuclear
waste from a U.S. military base in Japan that appeared to be headed either for
the United States or Canada. The Americans turned it away and ultimately so did
the Government of Canada. There were questions as to whether it met the safety
requirements of Canada and whether it could be transported in and through this
country. I believe its ultimate destination was somewhere in Northern Ontario.
Anyway, it was turned back by the government. There was quite an outcry in the
country as Canadians saw that thing slowly approaching our shores. Is that the
type of issue that you would weigh in your advocacy role?
Mr. Therien: No, that is not our area of expertise. The Advisory Council on
the Transportation of Dangerous Goods would deal with that issue.
The Chairman: Who finances the Canada Safety Council?
Mr. Therien: We receive very little money from government. We get financing
through the sale of programs, such as defensive driving or professional driver
The Chairman: To whom do you sell those programs?
Mr. Therien: Fleet operators for trucks. In most provinces, our defensive
driving programs are court referral or "bad boy" programs. If you take
one of our defensive driving programs you can reclaim some of the lost demerit
points. These programs are also used by insurance companies to assess rates.
Ms Ethel Archard, Manager, Marketing and Promotion, Canada Safety Council: We
have many sponsors for some of our specific programs. Our booklets, such as the
children's safety booklets, which we provide for free, are financed by mostly
private-sector sponsors. In some cases a government department might assist in
that way as well. Our financial statement is contained in our annual report.
The Chairman: Does it identify the sources of financing?
Ms Archard: No, it only identifies the generalities. We also have a
membership program, which is our charitable side. We are a registered charity
and we do receive those contributions. That is probably a lesser percentage of
our revenues, but over 80 per cent would be cost recovery from the sale of some
of our safety programs, our magazine and our training programs.
The Chairman: Would you sell those programs to fleet operators, to provincial
and federal departments of government?
Ms Archard: Individuals as well. We have a very popular motorcycle training
program that 70 per cent of new motorcycle riders across Canada take. They pay
for it on an individual basis.
The Chairman: What about the railways?
Mr. Therien: The Railway Association of Canada is a sustaining member of the
Canada Safety Council. They pay us a membership fee.
The Chairman: What is your annual budget?
Mr. Therien: This year it will be a little less than $2 million. We are a
very small staff.
The Chairman: How many are you?
Ms Archard: We are nine.
The Chairman: Are you located in Ottawa?
Mr. Therien: Yes, we are.
Senator Moore: I had an afterthought with respect to my question on standards
for mud flaps on trucks. This may assist you in your research as you develop
this. I think such a standard exists in Germany, or perhaps in all of the
European Community, and has led to a reduction in accidents, claims and so on.
You may want to look into that. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it may be
that you could access some legislation on the Internet or elsewhere that might
Mr. Therien: It is a perception more than a reality that trucks are in a
disproportionate number of accidents. They are not. Compared to the rest of the
vehicle population, they are disproportionately underrepresented in accidents in
Senator Finnerty: What would you like the federal government to focus on
Mr. Therien: There is a great need for municipal agencies to have adequate
funding to ensure that they can deliver when it counts. There is a lack of
available resources. In many cases, the provinces are cutting agencies back
almost to a shell. The need exists. Major incidents, such as the ice storm of a
few years ago, the Red River flood and the disaster in Lac-Saint-Jean, bring
awareness that the first responders are the agencies. If they are not adequately
prepared, there is a big problem. We have much to learn from the Americans, who
are very well prepared at the local level.
Senator Finnerty: That falls under provincial jurisdiction.
Mr. Therien: I realize that, but I believe that joint programs should be
identified and addressed.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Therien and Ms Archard, for appearing here
Our next witness will be Mr. Mark Winfield from the Canadian Institute for
Environmental Law and Policy.
Dr. Mark Winfield, Director of Research, Canadian Institute for Environmental
Law and Policy: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on this
important issue. The Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy is an
independent, not-for-profit environmental law and policy research and education
organization. It was founded in 1970 as the Canadian Environmental Law Research
Foundation. Toxic substances and pollution prevention have always been a major
focus of the institute's work and in recent years we have placed a particularly
strong emphasis on the principle of community right-to-know and toxic
I wish to address today emergency preparedness and prevention with regard to
toxic substances in Canada. In the past couple of years, we have seen a number
of fairly serious emergencies involving toxic substances. I point to examples
like the Plastimet fire in Hamilton, Ontario in July of 1997; the fire at the
Hub Oil Recycling facility in Calgary in August of last year; and just last
month, the fire at the U.S.E. Hickson facility in Scarborough, Ontario. In each
case, there were significant releases of toxic substances to the environment,
substances that were involved in the fire.
Serious concerns have been raised about the adequacy of the measures taken to
prevent those kinds of disasters as well as about the adequacy of the response
that occurred. I point in particular to the report of the Ontario Fire Marshal's
Office in relation to the Plastimet fire in Hamilton, which laid these out most
Surprisingly, there are virtually no federal requirements in Canada regarding
emergency prevention, preparedness and response for toxic substances. The one
exception is in relation to PCBs. At the provincial level, requirements vary
widely. Last year, the Province of Ontario adopted the requirement that
facilities that have more than 500 litres of flammable liquids on site have an
improved fire plan, but that is about it.
This situation is in stark contrast to that in the United States, where there
is a very strong federal regime around emergency prevention, preparedness, and
response to toxic substances, a process that began in the aftermath of the
Bhopal disaster in India, which involved a leak from a pesticide plant that
killed 3,000 people.
The first step in this process in the United States was the adoption of the
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in 1987. That act
established, among other things, requirements that facilities report the
quantities and types of chemicals they have on site to local and state emergency
preparedness and planning committees and that that information be made available
through those committees to the public. That has been very important for
ensuring that emergency responders know what they will find when they respond to
an emergency. It was a serious problem that fire fighters did not know what they
would find when they got to the Plastimet fire in Hamilton.
Another major impact of this is that it puts the community in a position to
ask hard questions of facilities about what preparations they have made to
prevent disasters or to respond to them if they occur.
The U.S. federal system was greatly strengthened in 1990 through amendments
to the Clean Air Act that require facilities that use any of 140 toxic or
flammable chemicals to establish risk-management programs. Those programs must
include things such as hazard assessments in relation to the substances on site;
an accident history for the facility over the preceding five years; the
development of both worst-case and planning-case scenarios in terms of a toxic
release, a fire or an explosion, in terms of what might happen and what the
impact area might be; prevention programs; and an emergency response program.
Facilities are also required to make public risk-management plans that are
essentially summaries of the risk planning programs. This includes information
on things like facility accident histories, the response plans in place, and
information about the types and quantities of chemicals stored on site. Much of
the key information from risk-management plans is posted on the U.S. EPA Web
site, some of which I will show you at the end of my presentation. It is a very
In Canada, we really have nothing comparable at the moment. However, the new
Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which received Royal Assent in September
of last year, does include provisions that allow the Minister of the Environment
to require emergency plans for facilities that use or manufacture substances
that are classified as being toxic for the purposes of the act. At the moment,
that includes about 44 substances. We are recommending today, as we have
recommended to Environment Canada, that those provisions be used to establish
emergency prevention and preparedness and response requirements similar to those
in the U.S. and that the core information in the U.S. system also be made
available in Canada. That includes things like information on the on-site
storage of toxic or flammable chemicals and facility accident history.
More generally, Part VIII of the new CEPA includes more general powers around
emergency planning and preparedness and the environment, and we are recommending
that aggressive use be made of those provisions.
In conclusion, the U.S. experience demonstrates that much more can be done in
regard to emergency prevention and preparedness and toxic substances in Canada.
At the moment, such requirements are virtually non-existent. We have been lucky,
but we have also had some very clear warnings, and I would point again to the
Plastimet fire in Hamilton. Quite frankly, with the Hickson fire in Scarborough
last month we were fortunate the wind was blowing the way it was and the
combustion products from the fire were blown out over Lake Ontario instead of
over the residential community.
The provisions of the new CEPA provide an opportunity to establish emergency
planning requirements for toxic substances in Canada. We are expressing our
support for the aggressive use of those provisions by Environment Canada to
safeguard the health, safety and environment of Canadians from emergencies
involving toxic substances.
Just briefly, I want to show you slides of some of the elements of the U.S.
EPA Web site. This is the home page for the U.S. Chemical Emergency Preparedness
and Prevention Office of the EPA. You can see they have a number of programs
around prevention and risk-management, preparedness, emergency planning,
community right-to-know, emergency response, international programs, and
I want to look at risk-management plan information protection. These
emergency planning requirements apply to about 60,000 facilities in the United
States. Facilities were required to submit their plans as of June 1999, and you
can do searches of the Web site for individual facilities, by geographic
location or size, and you can pull up information about the accident history of
the facility for the last five years. You can also pull up information on what
substances are on site, in what quantities, and whether they are flammable or
toxic. You can also pull up information on the emergency plans themselves, what
steps the facility has taken to prevent emergencies and also what provisions are
in place in the event that an emergency does occur.
The Chairman: Dr. Winfield, I take it from your presentation that you feel
that the new act is adequate as a legislative framework. Your strong
recommendation is that it be used, apparently through regulation, to do the
things that you think need to be done. Apart from a reference on page 1 to
Ontario, you make little or no reference to the role of the provinces in all
this. Do I understand correctly that you think the way to handle these problems
is for the federal government simply to bring down the hammer under the CEPA and
regulate this area, require plans, and police this area itself? Do you not see
some necessity for federal-provincial cooperation here?
Mr. Winfield: In general, I think that the suggestions we are making would
provide the foundation for federal-provincial cooperation. The problem is that
the provinces have had jurisdiction to establish those kinds of requirements
under their environmental legislation or through the fire codes; frankly, they
have not done it. There seems to us to be a fairly significant gap. You get a
very inconsistent situation across the country and you get very different
situations in different communities. In a city such as Toronto, where you have a
large and fairly sophisticated fire department that has the capacity to stay on
top of different facilities that may be a problem, you have a relatively
sophisticated arrangement in place. In smaller cities you may have nothing at
Senator Murray: Where does that set of facts lead us, in terms of the role of
the federal government?
Mr. Winfield: It leads us to an opportunity for the federal government to
establish some sort of baseline set of requirements, particularly in relation to
the substances that are classified as toxic for the purposes of the Canadian
Environmental Protection Act -- fairly high-risk, high-danger substances. Then
there would be some common baseline set of requirements that would apply across
the country, and there would also be some degree of uniformity and consistency
in terms of the ability of emergency responders to access information.
Again, lack of information has been a fairly significant problem. You get
different situations occurring simply depending on where you are. There were
different circumstances in the Hickson fire in Scarborough and the Plastimet
fire in Hamilton. In the case of the Hickson fire, the local fire department had
information on what they would be facing when they got to the fire site. In the
case of Hamilton, they had nothing. There were some serious concerns for the
health and safety of the firefighters regarding what they found.
The U.S. system allows a standardized mechanism for access for emergency
responders to find out what is on site at the facility, so that literally while
they are en route they can find out what they will face when they get there and
what kind of response would be appropriate.
We suggest that the federal government should establish some sort of baseline
requirements. That would not preclude the possibility of provinces establishing
more significant requirements on top of the federal base, but we think there is
a strong case to be made for a baseline component to be established.
The Chairman: You have studied the new CEPA more closely than I have, I am
sure. Are there not provisions in it under which the federal government would
accept a regime that was put in place a province, some delegation-of-authority
provisions? Can you describe those to us?
Mr. Winfield: There are general provisions in CEPA regarding that issue.
There are two ways it can be done. One is where the administration of the
federal regulation can be delegated to a province. That has been done in a
number of cases, such as pulp and paper industry discharge and things like that.
There is another mechanism whereby the provincial regulation can be declared to
be equivalent to the federal regulation made under CEPA, in which case it does
In relation to the emergency planning provisions, a somewhat analogous
provision says that, if a facility has a plan already that meets the federal
requirements, then, in effect, that can be accepted as the federal plan. If a
province were to establish planning requirements, then that could be accepted as
meeting the federal requirement. There are mechanisms to allow for that sort of
federal-provincial interface, while at the same time making sure, whether it is
through federal or provincial regulation, that something is in place. That is
the really crucial thing. It is less important which level of government does
it. The important thing is to make sure the requirement is there one way or the
The Chairman: In respect of CEPA, are you aware of negotiations or
discussions that may be underway now precisely to put the regulatory framework
Mr. Winfield: A discussion paper has been circulated by Environment Canada. I
believe it has gone to the provinces. We have commented on it. I do not know the
status of those discussions with the provinces at this stage. My understanding
is that there is a conversation going on there. Our hope is to give the federal
government a nudge to keep it going.
The Chairman: How is the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy
Mr. Winfield: We are a charitable organization recognized by Revenue Canada.
Our funding comes from sources such as philanthropic foundations, individual
memberships and publication sales. We also on occasion do contract work as a
consultant for governments.
The Chairman: Is that a significant part of your financing?
Mr. Winfield: It is less than half. It varies from year to year, from 30 per
cent to 40 per cent.
The Chairman: Is it the federal government you work for?
Mr. Winfield: It is principally federal agencies these days.
The Chairman: What is your budget?
Mr. Winfield: We are around $600,000 per year.
Senator Finnerty: After the fire in Hamilton, the public wanted an inquiry
and it was refused by the Ontario government. Did your organization make its
position known in that regard?
Mr. Winfield: Yes, very strongly. We supported the inquiry. At the time, the
Government of Ontario was actually proposing to weaken further what little
regulatory controls existed on waste handling and recycling facilities. We
pointed out very strongly the potential folly of doing that, in light of the
Plastimet disaster. I am pleased to say that the Government of Ontario did back
down on those proposed regulatory changes.
We also made a number of recommendations around strengthening emergency and
fire preparedness and prevention at recycling and waste handling facilities.
Unfortunately, those recommendations were not adopted by the Government of
Senator Finnerty: Have you met with the new environmental commissioner of
Mr. Winfield: We have not, yet. We are hoping to do so shortly. We would very
much like to meet him. We know his predecessor worked very hard on the Plastimet
issue and expressed concern about the degree to which these types of facilities
were not adequately regulated and the degree to which the government was
proposing to weaken the regulatory framework. We went on the public record
saying that the government seemed to be determined to repeat and expand on the
errors that led to the Plastimet situation in the first place.
Senator Mahovlich: Are you aware of the lawsuit going on right now in
California with a Vancouver company about a substance that Canadians have put in
Mr. Winfield: The MTBE issue. I am vaguely familiar with it, yes.
Senator Mahovlich: The substance seems to be seeping into their lakes.
Mr. Winfield: It is a very complex issue. In effect, if I recall correctly, a
U.S. company made a complaint through the North American Commission for
Environmental Cooperation about the standards for MTBE, which is a gasoline
Senator Mahovlich: Is MTBE manufactured in Canada?
Mr. Winfield: I believe so. I am not intimately aware of the details of the
case. I would have to do some digging on it. There is a controversy around it.
It is related to the issue of MMT, which is another gasoline additive. If I
recall correctly, California is in the process of trying to ban the substance,
and the claim is made that doing so would be more environmentally harmful than
allowing it to continue to be used. It is a very complex case.
The Chairman: Thank you very much for your testimony today. It was very
May I ask Mr. William Pugsley, the immediate past president of the Canadian
Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, and Dr. John Reid, its past president,
to come to the table, please.
There is a written presentation here. Mr. Pugsley, please proceed and then we
will open the floor for questions.
Mr. William Pugsley, Immediate Past President, Canadian Meteorological and
Oceanographic Society: Honourable senators, I am a consultant, formerly with the
Department of National Defence and Environment Canada, and immediate
past-president of the society. My colleague John Reid, also formerly with
Environment Canada, preceded me as president of the society. He is now a
lecturer in the geography department of Carleton University. On behalf of the
800 members of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, we
appreciate the opportunity to appear here today.
CMOS is a federally registered, non-profit organization with the aim of
advancing meteorology and oceanography in Canada. The society does this through
publications, scientific meetings, and providing scholarships and awards, among
other programs. Most of its funding comes from membership fees and revenues from
conferences and publications. Environment Canada provides a small grant in
recognition of the CMOS's role in furthering the continuous learning of its
employees. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans provides support in kind to
house the society's permanent secretariat here in Ottawa.
We will speak about three issues today and then answer questions. The first
issue is the viability of the weather service and improved parliamentary
oversight. As with most government organizations, the Meteorological Service of
Canada, or MSC, formerly the Atmospheric Environment Service, has seen major
budget cuts in the last few years -- a 31 per cent reduction since 1994-95 to
$169.2 million in the current fiscal year. A further reduction of $10 million is
programmed in the current Estimates. The annual cost to the taxpayer is $5.50
per Canadian. The comparable U.S. figure is over $10 per American, for a smaller
area of responsibility. These cuts have increased the risk of weather service
failure to unacceptable levels.
Lack of funding is evident in two mission-critical aspects of the service
that make for particular vulnerability. First, funding to renew MSC
infrastructure for observation, major computer and telecommunication systems has
dropped to far below sustainable levels. The infrastructure is rusting out and
becoming obsolete. Canada is at least 10 years behind the U.S. in the
installation of Doppler radar systems. The last system, by the way, radar number
8 out of 26, was installed approximately a month ago.
The Doppler radar system is one of the few tools available to give the public
more than a few seconds warning of impending severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
New systems that should be planned to improve public service are virtually
inconceivable in this stressful situation. For example, despite its large land
area and history as a space-faring nation, Canada has never built or launched a
weather satellite, although it has built other satellites.
Since the 1960's, Canada has been freeloading on U.S. weather satellites.
There is little impact on weather service operations as long as the U.S. is
willing to share its data. Technology has now advanced to the stage where
satellite sensors can zoom in on areas of severe weather. By providing detailed
coverage, this technology promises a significant advance in lead time for
weather warnings. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. will rank monitoring
Canadian weather in this way as a high priority, particularly if they have other
areas of concern. Satellite costs are decreasing, yet CMOS hears of no plan from
Environment Canada or the Canadian Space Agency to remedy this deficiency.
The second MSC mission-critical vulnerability is a chronic and worsening
human resources situation. Following major reductions of staff during program
review approaching 35 per cent, attrition is now at the 3.7 per cent level
compared to a long-term average of 2 per cent. In the next eight years, a third
of what is left of the scientific workforce is eligible to retire. The supply of
qualified people to take their place has dwindled to a trickle as universities
close down their feeder programs owing to federal downsizing initiatives. There
will be few specialists to take their place. Many operational offices are now
understaffed, leaving the service vulnerable -- a particular issue for hazardous
You could be excused for thinking that this is a special plea for increased
funding for our colleagues in the MSC. We do not deny that restored funding
would be justified, but we are alarmed that Parliament, which should be the
public's watchdog to ensure the MSC's viability, is not performing that role. As
a vital service used by a majority of Canadians every day, the weather service
should be under significant scrutiny to ensure that it remains viable, yet it
has been almost totally ignored by major parliamentary bodies.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable
Development has not done a study on the weather service in living memory,
usually only giving passing notice during consideration of Estimates. It is many
years since the Auditor General made any comprehensive study of national weather
services. As I recall, 1982 was the last year. We are convinced that such
attention would make the vulnerability of the weather service very apparent.
CMOS urges this committee to exert its influence to improve parliamentary
oversight of the Meteorological Service of Canada.
The second point concerns severe weather warnings and strengthening the role
of the broadcast media. Centuries ago, warnings of approaching storms were given
by ringing church bells. That was effective for small communities and
appropriate given the forecast capabilities of the day. Today, with Doppler
radar, supercomputers, satellites and lightning detection networks, governments
have a vastly greater capacity to anticipate hazardous weather and fulfil their
obligation for protection of the public safety. With much larger communities,
broadcasting is the modern equivalent of ringing the church bells.
You may not know that there is no official emergency broadcast system in
Canada and no specific obligation on broadcasters beyond section 26(2) of the
Broadcasting Act, which has never been used, and no obligation to broadcast
weather warnings. There is a clear expectation. For example, emergency
organization public service announcements advise citizens to keep a
battery-operated radio available. Environment Canada, with which we have a close
relationship, relies on the broadcast media as a primary means of distributing
weather warnings. Naturally, many broadcasters voluntarily provide emergency and
weather warning service, in particular, after the event, when it becomes
"news." Many members of the public assume that broadcast media are
obliged to broadcast such warnings. They are not.
Our informal observations indicate a mixed response to airing weather
warnings. Few stations appear to cut into programs, others wait for an
appropriate break or news report, and others seem to ignore them, perhaps
because the broadcast content is being originated remotely and cannot be broken.
In some cases, as was experienced with the Edmonton tornado 12 years ago, no
matter how good the scientific prediction, the value is lost if the warning
broadcast is not made promptly. In the Edmonton case, of the 27 people killed,
14 were in the Evergreen Trailer Park. The weather office had issued a tornado
warning for the city 40 minutes before the tornado approached the trailer park,
yet most people did not know the tornado was coming. Only one of four TV
stations broadcast the tornado warning. Our members across the country find the
situation to be no better today for radio or for T.V. broadcasting.
In 1997, CMOS appeared before the CRTC hearing on commercial broadcasting to
urge the commission to take a more active role in ensuring radio broadcasters
become reliable partners in distributing weather warnings. The decision of the
CRTC was to convene a meeting with interested parties. We subsequently held a
bilateral meeting with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to improve their
understanding of our concerns. Only in the past month -- two years later -- have
we been contacted by the CRTC to follow up on their 1998 decision.
CMOS urges this committee to support strengthening the role of the broadcast
media in weather warnings in all emergency situations.
My final point is on climate change and disasters and improving the basis for
planning. At present, scientific understanding limits how well climate change
can be predicted. In particular, and especially at regional and local scales,
the degree to which Canada will face a much greater incidence of weather
extremes, such as storms, droughts and ice storms, or only incremental changes
is unclear. Even in the face of such uncertainty, we can anticipate additional
For example, although the past winter was relatively benign, there was one
major storm on January 21 and 22 that caused substantial damage and that
illustrates an issue for emergency preparedness. The weather system formed off
the South Carolina coast, deepening explosively as it moved north to cross the
eastern mainland of Nova Scotia as a 948-millibar cyclone. Its path took the
cyclone to 50 kilometres east of Charlottetown and north to Anticosti Island.
As a maritime system, its main effects were coastal. A large quantity of
water was dragged into the Gulf of St. Lawrence ahead of the storm. The storm
surge raised water levels more than a metre around P.E.I. and adjacent areas of
New Brunswick in the early evening of January 21. It so happened that a
particular high natural tide was occurring. The combination caused severe
flooding and losses of wharves. Fishermen claim that the loss of berthing
facilities, combined with the privatization of government facilities, has
steeply increased the cost of berthing.
In Newfoundland, later that same night, storm force winds and large waves
generated by the storm struck Port aux Basques, on the Burin Peninsula.
Senator Doody: That is about 500 miles east of Port-aux-Basques.
Port-aux-Basques is not on the Burin Peninsula. If you want to put it on the
Burin Peninsula, that is all right. Carry on, sir.
Mr. Pugsley: In any case, at the small community of Channel Head, a
nine-metre wave destroyed a home. The damage would have been worse had the
natural tide not retreated to near low by that time.
Although Environment Canada did a good job of forecasting the storm, there is
no adequate system in place to recognize the danger caused by the combination of
wind, tide, storm surge, and waves. Communities are often most at risk from such
combinations of circumstances.
The regions affected by the January storm need to take this event as a
wake-up call. One of the changes scientists are most confident about associated
with a warming climate is rising sea levels. This means that even if scientists
are not certain about the future frequency and magnitude of the storms,
emergency preparedness planners should anticipate increasing risk from coastal
CMOS urges this committee to promote, within the emergency preparedness and
planning communities, knowledge of the increased risk of coastal flooding
because of climate change. We need to develop confident estimates of other
likely climate changes. As announced in the recent budget speech, CMOS was
pleased to reach an agreement with the federal government to establish a
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. The foundation will
administer funding of $60 million over six years for university-based research
on climate change, air quality and extreme weather prediction. Through the
foundation, CMOS looks forward to improving the confidence in the risk
assessment of future climate change.
In order to implement the advances made through such research, the
Meteorological Service of Canada will require additional services and staff.
This kind of partnership arrangement between government and university to
advance the science and technology behind critical government services is a good
thing, but it requires capable partners on both sides in order to work
effectively. This balance needs to be restored.
We thank you for the opportunity to address the committee, and we look
forward to responding to any questions you may have.
Senator Doody: I just want to make a correction that Port-aux-Basques is not
on the Burin Peninsula. It is about 500 miles west. It is on the southeast
corner of the island. That is all.
Mr. Pugsley: I thank the senator for the correction.
Senator Finnerty: What measures has your organization taken to attract new
workers, through scholarships or enticement programs, summer work programs, or
anything of that nature?
Mr. Pugsley: Both Dr. Reid and I are meteorologists. The profession is one
that you get into at the post-graduate level. Our aim is to enhance the science
of meteorology and oceanography, and we do that by providing scholarships at the
undergraduate level, to people in their final year doing their bachelor's
degree, and by adding scholarships to the NSERC awards given at the
post-graduate level. Those are the main focus to help students complete their
We are also an active supporter in science fairs at the 14 centres across
Canada, 14 cities or towns, where CMOS has chapters. We are active in supporting
the science fairs aimed at high-school students.
Dr. John Reid, Past-president, Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic
Society: If I may just add something, one of the other programs we have is a
program to certify broadcast meteorologists. Often when students become
interested in weather, it is because they have seen someone broadcasting weather
information on the television, and we have a program in place to certify people,
to make sure that, when they speak, they are speaking from a level of knowledge.
The Chairman: Are most of the people who are speaking now on the nation's
television networks speaking from a level of knowledge?
Dr. Reid: Most of them are speaking from a level of knowledge from the
broadcasting industry. An increasing number of stations are concerned about this
issue. In fact, The Weather Network is in active discussions with us as to
enhancing our program so that they can have some assurance that their
meteorologists have an improved level of meteorological knowledge.
The Chairman: I grew up in Nova Scotia, where a man by the name of Rube
Hornstein was a weatherman. He came out of the weather service, whatever they
called it, and did the forecasts every night on television.
Mr. Pugsley: In that field, Percy Saltzman was the Rube Hornstein of the
Toronto area. When I first joined what was the meteorological branch of the
Department of Transport at the time, Percy Saltzman was the one who instructed
us on how to deal with the media. Both Mr. Hornstein and Mr. Saltzman are still
very active members of CMOS and support some of the things I have mentioned,
such as the scholarship awards.
The Chairman: Are the people on the cable weather networks not meteorologists
or trained particularly in that field, or are they simply trained as television
Mr. Pugsley: It would be better to speak to the company that owns The Weather
Network, but I understand they are given limited training in meteorology,
something in the order of two or three weeks. By comparison, a professional
meteorologist must have a bachelor's degree in science specializing in
meteorology, followed by another year of post-graduate training to reach the
minimum level. Dr. Reid has a Ph.D. in atmospheric science. I have a Masters
Degree from McGill.
Dr. Reid: If I could amplify on that a bit, there are really two levels.
There are the people who appear on the television screen, and behind them there
are quite a number of experienced operational meteorologists, and younger people
who have much more in-depth knowledge.
Senator Mahovlich: Would a network such as CNN have its own satellite in
Mr. Pugsley: No.
Senator Mahovlich: Where would they get their information?
Mr. Pugsley: Are you talking about the American cable weather channel?
Senator Mahovlich: Yes.
Mr. Pugsley: I visited their offices in Atlanta. They, like The Weather
Network in Canada, rely on the government service for all of the satellite and
weather information they get. Their role is to put it across to the public,
which they do by making it attractively packaged, but the raw data for the
forecast for the next few days or the week comes to them from government, as it
does to the CBC in Canada. They obviously try to make it as attractive as
possible, and that is their part of the business.
In the United States, some private television stations see enough value in
broadcasting weather that they provide enough money to have their own Doppler
radar. Here in Ottawa, we can watch a station in Rochester, New York, which has
its own Doppler radar, and had it, in fact, before the American government
funded one for that area. They are very much on top of things.
Senator Moore: Last November, I attended a meeting relating to tall ships and
sailing in Boston. A presentation was made there by a gentleman from the
National Hurricane Centre in Miami. Do we have any comparable centres of
watching and reporting, in areas of Canada where we might have a great number of
thunder and lightning storms, or ice storms, for example? Do we have that kind
of specialty of watching and reporting?
Mr. Pugsley: Yes, we do, senator. The most critical part of the Canadian
Weather Service is the Canadian Meteorological Centre, which is located on the
Island of Montreal. It was the first agency to get a supercomputer in Canada, in
1984, to provide numerical weather prediction. That is where all of the
satellite data, computer forecasts and raw information are generated. This comes
about from the 7,000 upper-air balloons. The information flows into Montreal, is
digested by computer, and then is spread out across Canada. In addition to that,
within the last five or six years, an official Canadian national hurricane
centre, if you want to call it that, was established in Halifax, because Halifax
is the major centre in the path of any hurricanes coming up the East Coast, and
they are the ones who then tailor warnings that go out on the East Coast.
Senator Moore: A couple of weeks ago we heard from witnesses from the
National Space Agency. They spoke about the satellite that they have in place
and about the information they were able to provide other areas around the globe
from the images and so on that they were able to obtain from the satellite.
Is there a tie-in between your society, the department of environment and
that agency with respect to their monitoring and reporting on severe storm
Mr. Pugsley: Yes, senator. The Canadian Space Agency has Radarsat. And
Radarsat is used by the weather service to monitor icebergs. I read the
testimony of the witnesses in April. They were referring to following floods, in
particular the flood that was going up towards Winnipeg from the south. You can
do this on a satellite such as Radarsat that goes over the same spot with a
frequency of once every day or so.
The key thing in looking at weather phenomena is that they change. Thunder
storms have a lifetime of 15 or 20 minutes. You will not catch a storm such as
that by looking at the area once a day. Thus, the kinds of weather satellites
that we refer to in our briefing are either the orbiting kind or the
geostationary kind, the so-called GOES satellites that you frequently see on
television, which look at the whole earth from the side and then follow, in
time-lapse fashion, storms and clouds moving by. That is one kind. The other is
the polar orbiting satellite that repeats every 90 minutes over the same area.
Dr. Reid has other information that you may find useful.
Dr. Reid: I just wanted to re-emphasize that, whereas Radarsat is very useful
for many of the emergencies we have in Canada, it looks at a particular location
usually only once every three days. Where you have weather that is much more
active than that, there is a limited utility of Radarsat for that type of
weather activity. That becomes of particular concern when you have the
capability from some advanced satellites to focus in on a particular area of
active, severe weather, which is just not a capability that Radarsat has.
Senator Moore: Is that capability and predictability function now relying on
American data from this satellite?
Dr. Reid: Since weather satellites started, which is 40 years ago, Canada has
never had a weather satellite. We have always been reliant on the American
Senator Moore: Have we designed a system and not put it into space, or have
we just not gone that far in the drawing books?
Dr. Reid: It just has not been a priority for the Canadian Space Agency and
its predecessors. Quite frankly, until recently, both the technology and the
launch were very expensive; so you can understand that. It is only now, now that
we are getting to the stage where there is a capability to focus in on areas of
severe weather and it is unlikely that the U.S. will see Canadian areas as a
priority, that we need to be concerned about this.
Senator Moore: Do they charge us for that information?
Dr. Reid: No, they do not charge us at all. That is why we say we are
Senator Moore: They give you no guarantee of accuracy, but they do not charge
Dr. Reid: They do not charge us, but we get the same information as they get,
so we are fairly sure the accuracy is good. The quid pro quo is an international
arrangement under the World Meteorological Organization for free exchange of
meteorological information. Thus, we run weather observing stations, upper-air
sounding stations and we exchange that data with other countries. In order to
make a long-range weather forecast, you need global data.
Senator Moore: With respect to the ships off the East Coast, how many times a
day do you report on wave heights and so on? Is that information fed into a bank
of information on the East Coast, which is then made use of by people in the
United States, if they need it, or is that part of the global sharing of that
kind of data?
Dr. Reid: Ship observations are an important part of the data source because
obviously oceans are an area where we are greatly devoid of data. There are also
weather buoys now. However, yes, that data gets in very quickly, because time is
of the essence in weather prediction.
Mr. Pugsley: That weather buoy or ship data goes from the ship to Montreal,
the Canadian Meteorological Centre, and then is fed into Washington, Moscow,
Melbourne and around the world. The data is distributed, digested and sent out
again in forecast form, all in the matter of about two hours. Every six hours,
the upper-air data and the surface data are processed like this. Aviation data
is collected every hour, and the same thing occurs across Canada.
This is why the national communication system -- in fact, the world
communication system -- for weather is such is backbone of getting the
Senator Mahovlich: Would you people recommend a satellite for our weather
system, or can we just continue on the way we are? Is there a future where you
feel it is necessary to have a weather satellite system?
Dr. Reid: I think this will happen. It is really a question of benefits and
costs. The benefits will be there, the costs have been prohibitive up to now.
We would like to get the Canadian Space Agency to put a little more effort
into looking at the weather satellite area as a priority. I would suggest that
if the committee has not done this, and I know this was considered by the
subcommittee last year, a visit to the Canadian Meteorological Centre in
Montreal would give you considerable insight into the capabilities and
international aspects of the weather service and what could be achieved.
The Chairman: There are at least three of us at this table who have a
particular interest in rising sea levels and problems that might be associated
You referred in your presentation to the January storm, early evening of
January 21. You see it as a wake-up call. One of the changes that scientists are
most confident about, associated with a warming climate is rising sea levels.
This weather system that formed off the South Carolina coast, is that related
to the warming climate?
Mr. Pugsley: I think the point we were making, senator, is that when you put
together three different things they add up to a disaster. One of the things was
the storm. Storms with a strong southeast wind coming up the East Coast will
pile up water on the coast. That is a known. Another thing that we know is that
in the spring the tides reach their maximum height. If you happen to have a
storm in the spring, your water levels will be higher. If, on top of that, you
do not have a warning system or you cannot get people prepared for it, either
through the design of structures or otherwise to avert the problems, you will
have a third problem.
This is where climate change comes into the picture. The thing about climate
change that scientists are most confident about is that the air is warming and
will continue to warm because there is more CO2.
The first thing we know about water is that, when it heats, it expands. The
oceanographers tell us that the expansion in the ocean has been between 10 and
25 centimetres over the past century. Over the next hundred years, they are
expecting a rise of about half a metre -- 50 centimetres. That may not may not
seem like much, but if you can imagine a half metre going up to a metre, and
think of some low-lying areas, such as Yarmouth, Charlottetown, P.E.I.,
Richmond, B.C., parts of Hudson's Bay, and lower Nunuvut, around Frobisher Bay,
these are all areas that are very close to the ocean. If the ocean goes up and
on top of that you have a storm wave, then you have a problem.
This is something we are fairly confident about: the combination of air
temperature rising, water temperature rising and sea level rising, which may
seem insignificant initially, but can be catastrophic when you put together
several different events.
The Chairman: The Atlantic East Coast is dotted with wharves and various
ports and fishing and recreation facilities and what not. Your reference to
Yarmouth indicates that it is more vulnerable, but everything is relative. The
problem that exists all along the coast --
Mr. Pugsley: Maybe not in parts of Cape Breton, but in Halifax and low-lying
The Chairman: Perhaps I will stay where I am. What about Newfoundland?
Mr. Pugsley: Again, I think we have an authority on Newfoundland. There are
parts of Newfoundland that are mountainous and there is not a problem for sea
levels there. It is a matter of looking at a town and seeing where it is close
to sea level, where it is flat and a rise in sea level will cause problems. That
is where you should focus your attention.
The Chairman: What should be done by the authorities?
Mr. Pugsley: After the Canadian Climate Program started in 1979, a very
careful topographic map of Canada was done showing which areas would be
vulnerable to increased sea level rises. The areas are well known.
From there, it is a matter of comparing storms and extreme events in order to
come up with better or updated design values for any property that could be
affected by what I was talking about here in Channel Head. It is a building code
issue, in a way.
Dr. Reid: Many of the planning permissions that are used around the coast are
based on criteria such as areas that are likely to be flooded once in 20 years
or once in 100 years. With the climate change, those lines will move.
Therefore, we would like the scientific people to say where these lines will
move to and then the planning people to make the necessary adjustments, which,
of course, are necessarily controversial when you have individuals with property
who will be affected by those changes and possibly insurance rates or
availability of insurance.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Pugsley and Dr. Reid, for an interesting