PETER BEVAN-BAKER: Calling for public inquiry into Fiona response

Almost two weeks after Fiona slammed into Prince Edward Island, the human and economic costs are becoming more and more evident. While the response is ongoing, there is increasing and unsettling evidence of preventable failures in key areas that need to be investigated.

These areas include, but are not limited to, Government planning and communication, power restoration, telecommunication companies, abandoned seniors and persons with disabilities, and getting financial support to Islanders.

A narrow third-party review, as was done in the aftermath of post-tropical storm Dorian, is not enough, and it is not a substitute for a public inquiry. It is not enough to focus primarily on EMO response—in fact, many Islanders have pointed to the slow and often inadequate response of government to roll out supports, and have raised questions about the practices of other non-government entities involved in the disaster response and recovery.

 

The Commissioner of a public inquiry would have several powers. For example, a commissioner could compel testimony and evidence from representatives of a utility, or a telecommunications company, or a community partner, or other non-governmental organization about what happened. If the Province conducted a review without these powers, we would risk serious gaps in our understanding of the disaster response and recovery and how we can better protect Islanders the next time a storm like this happens.

The response to Fiona involved the largest disaster response we have seen in our history; not only is that true for many of the organizations involved, it is true for the tens of thousands of Islanders who stepped up individually and collectively to ensure their communities were supported and cared for in a very difficult and scary time.

We need a full and public accounting of the events surrounding post-tropical storm Fiona so we can learn from this experience and be more prepared in the future. Members of the public must have an opportunity to communicate their experiences directly, as should organizations who supported Islanders during this difficult time. With a changing climate and the frequency of such devastating storms increasing, there is no better time than now to ensure that this vital work is undertaken to protect our province from future devastation and loss.

Before appointing the Commissioner and approving the terms of reference, we are also calling on Government to consult on these matters with the Leaders of the Opposition and the Third Party.