The federal government has no intention to reverse its decision to cut funding to the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP), which includes funding to heavy urban search and rescue units like the one called to Elliot Lake, Ont., after the roof of a mall collapsed last weekend.
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Candice Hoeppner, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Public Safety, told host Evan Solomon that it's now up to the provinces to take over that responsibility.
"We funded them [the provinces] up until this point. It's time for them to step up and continue with the funding and the training. It is their responsibility," Hoeppner said.
The Conservative MP explained that the federal government has been providing funding to the JEPP over the last 11 years, with $6 million going to Ontario's Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team.
There are five heavy urban search and rescue units across the country, based in Vancouver, Calgary, Brandon, Man., Toronto and Halifax.
"When we looked into our entire role, this was an area that we did not see the funding being maybe used as effectively as it could be," Hoeppner said.
But her provincial counterpart could not disagree more.
Also speaking to The House on Saturday, Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario's minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, told Solomon the federal government's decision to cut funding to these programs was "unfortunate" and will put lives at risk.
"The five provinces that have this team in place, and this program in place, are quite upset at the federal government for deciding to download this responsibility to provincial governments and to municipalities," said Meilleur.
"And more lives will be in danger because we don't have this expertise in place."
Hoeppner told Solomon the federal government is "not going to back away from this decision" although it is prepared to assist Ontario should the province ask for help.
"The prime minister was clear, if the premier needs help, if they want help, we're there, we're ready, we'll help in any way we can," Hoeppner said.
The Conservative MP explained that the federal government is investing in areas where the federal government can assist with emergencies such as natural disasters.
Last week, Hoeppner was in Regina with Peter Mackay, the minister of National Defence, to announce $43.5 million in funding for the Canadian Safety and Security Program.
The program is billed as a way to strengthen Canada’s ability to "anticipate, prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism, crime, natural disasters, and serious accidents."
But Meilleur said the heavy urban search and rescue units need to be "well financed" and that she will be writing to her federal counterparts to ask that they review their decision to cut into these programs.
"I hope that they will change their mind," Meilleur said.
In a written statement on Friday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced he will be launching an independent public inquiry into the roof collapse at the Algo Centre Mall, which killed two women and injured more than 20 others.
Details of the inquiry will be announced at a later date.
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