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Public Safety once again a sprawling portfolio of pressing concerns


November 21, 2019
By The Canadian Press

OTTAWA —  Just over a year ago, Bill Blair took the reins of a new federal ministry — border security and organized crime reduction — hived off from veteran minister Ralph Goodale’s sprawling public safety and emergency preparedness portfolio.

Following Goodale’s defeat in last month’s election, Blair now leads a reunified public safety department and juggling the many pressing responsibilities that go with it, from tackling gun violence to modernizing the RCMP.

The decision to bring the elements back under one roof comes as the emergency-management strand of the portfolio takes on new prominence and occupies more ministerial time.

Disasters such as floods and wildfires are becoming more common and severe across the country, due in part to climate change. These disasters have cost tens of billions of dollars in damages and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, the government says.

Goodale helped manage the federal response to disasters such as the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., oversaw financial assistance to affected provinces and territories, and worked on reducing the effects of hazardous events.
A key aim is to build more resilient communities that can better cope with, respond to and recover from calamities.

Eventually creating a standalone emergency-management portfolio would make sense, given there is likely to be a bigger role for the federal government in this area in years to come, said Genevieve Tellier, a professor in the University of Ottawa’s faculty of social sciences.

It would also be smart politically, in that a new emergencies minister would be highly visible even if he or she would be closely associated with disasters, Tellier said. “You need someone showing that the government cares, and you need someone ready go, whatever is required, 24-7.”

Such a minister could also play a co-ordinating role with cabinet colleagues directly responsible for related files such as infrastructure and climate change, Tellier added.

Blair and his colleagues in Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet will receive mandate letters spelling out specific goals and priorities.

For now, Blair is seized with the Liberal campaign promise to ban military-style assault rifles, including the AR-15, and work with provinces and territories to give municipalities the ability to further restrict or ban handguns.

Blair is already well-versed on the issue. Trudeau asked him to study the possibility of banning some firearms shortly after a summer 2018 shooting spree in Toronto.

It remains a matter “of some urgency,” Blair said Thursday before a cabinet meeting. “I’ve been in conversation with the police and with mayors and communities right across the country. People are very concerned about the level of violence.”

In his former role, Blair was also heavily involved in the legalization of recreational cannabis use and dealing with the influx of irregular migrants across the border from the Unites States. Those issues no longer make daily headlines, but still demand careful attention.

Other files likely to occupy the public safety minister’s time in the next few months:
—  A long-running federal review of Chinese telecom firm Huawei’s potential involvement in Canada’s 5G mobile-network development, a highly sensitive file given tense relations between Ottawa and Beijing;
— The fate of Canadians who travelled to fight alongside extremists in Iraq and Syria, but now find themselves imprisoned overseas;
— Implementation of sweeping national- security legislation that limits some spy powers, blazes new paths for Canada’s security services in data-crunching and cyberwarfare, and bolsters accountability and review

— Jim Bronskill

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2019.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2019