Nov. 17, 2015, Niagara Falls, Ont. – Accountability; to most of us, it means systems and boards and tags and making sure everyone goes home.
By Laura King
But now, the federal government has given Canadians – including fire services from coast to coast to coast – a mandate to hold it accountable, to keep its myriad promises, to initiate the real change we’ve heard so much about.
Quietly, late last week, the Liberals posted online the mandate letters from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to his cabinet.
As one rather conservative/Conservative fire-service friend noted to me, posting the documents is, in itself, real change, given that the letters were never public under Stephen Harper, or any previous federal government, for that matter.
According to news stories, the letters were posted on the government website so voters and taxpayers can hold ministers to their lengthy to-do lists.
Why is this important to you? Because for years, elements of the fire service have asked the government for more. And now, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has been tasked to restore funding for heavy urban search and rescue teams, improve benefits for first responders who suffer injuries and line-of-duty deaths, create a national action plan for PTSD, and develop a system to better predict, prepare for and respond to weather-related emergencies and natural disasters.
To give credit where credit’s due, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been lobbying hard on some of these issues, and people such as Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney have led the charge on the HUSAR file – a particular interest of mine after getting to know some team members during the inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall collapse and the response to it.
Now it’s your turn to ensure Goodale and other ministers whose portfolios encompass public safety do what they’ve been elected to do. Pay attention, read newspapers, be active in your provincial and national fire associations, talk to your MP – invite him or her to your station. The government has asked us to hold its feet to the, uh, fire; let’s make sure we do.
Incidentally, my favourite line in the mandate letters – the preamble is the same in all 30, only the list of action items differs – comes after Trudeau explains that ministers will be held accountable for the Liberal commitment to bring a different style of leadership to government that includes collaboration with colleagues, opposition members, the public service, business, labour and others.
Then, the prime minister says, “As well, members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, indeed all journalists in Canada and abroad, are professionals who, by asking necessary questions, contribute in an important way to the democratic process. Your professionalism and engagement with them is essential.”
Turning to provincial politics . . . it was a pleasure to meet Ontario’s interim fire marshal, Ross Nichols, 10 days ago at the Fire Service Women Ontario conference in Mississauga.
Nichols was gracious when we were introduced by Carol-Lynn Chambers, principal of the Ontario Fire College, noting that he is a (presumably recent) blog reader and thanking me for my positive post after his appointment.
From there, things went sideways for Nichols, who was seated with Harinder Molhi, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Brampton-Springdale and the parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for women’s issues.
Ms. Molhi was the first special guest to speak; she grabbed her speech from the table, made her way to the lectern, and delivered a remarkably well-researched and poignant few words about women in the fire service, the state of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, the initiatives and changes within, and even mentioned Ms. Chambers by name. Wow, I thought, someone did a heck of a lot of homework, and there was no political pandering.
Shortly thereafter, I asked Chambers to introduce me to the fire marshal, at which point she noted that the order of proceedings had changed and Nichols would speak last, because the MPP had mistakenly grabbed his speech from the table and read it – word for word – leaving him, literally, speechless.
As all OPP-inspectors-turned-fire-marshals would do, Nichols sized-up the situation and formulated an incident action plan. He spoke next (not last), making light of the situation and reading the MPPs speech, even the kind words about the Ontario Liberals.
Try as he might, however, Nichols couldn’t hold the interest of the 100 or so women in the room – in Mississauga for the weekend to train, learn and network. The MPPs speech, which Ms. Mohli clearly hadn’t perused before she stood up with the fire marshal’s words in her hands, lacked the oomph of the fire-marshal’s address, and fell rather flat.
Mohli had left immediately after her – uh, his – speech, never realizing her error.
All of which is to say that Nichols’ first real test comes tomorrow, when he speaks to 250 chief fire officers at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs midterm meeting in Niagara Falls.
I’m fairly certain this fire marshal, unlike his predecessor and the gatekeeper he employed, will welcome reporters’ questions and queries afterwards and as he makes the changes necessary to get the OFMEM back on track.
And I’m absolutely certain his speech will not leave his hands.