Government unveils public-safety department

Globe and Mail Update

UPDATED AT 10:32 AM EST Friday, Dec. 12, 2003


The Paul Martin government has unveilled a sweeping new public-safety department -- and is creating a new agency -- that will add public-health functions and disaster response to policing and border security.

The new department, designed to pull together a wide variety of security functions, will be touted as a restructuring needed to meet the complex demands of a post-Sept. 11 world.

In a release Friday, the Prime Minister said the new department, to be headed by Anne McLellan, will "secure the safety of Canadians and protect against or respond to national crises, natural disasters and security emergencies."

The government said it will create a new Public Health Agency to deal with "health risks such as communicable and infectious disease and to coordinate national response to health crises."

It is modelled after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — a "CDC north," a source said earlier this week — that will co-ordinate the response to health emergencies such as SARS.

It is one of two major changes to the structure of government that Mr. Martin announced Friday — the other being a breakup of the government's most gargantuan department, Human Resources Development Canada, according to advisers involved in the planning.

HRDC will be split into the Human Resources and skills Development Department and the Department of Social Development.

"I want to lead an effective government, a focused government, a caring government," Mr. Martin said in a release.

Although Mr. Martin's team has considered wide-ranging possibilities for restructuring government, it settled on two immediate major changes, and eschewed a vast series of immediate major overhauls.

Other substantive changes will be announced as goals after Mr. Martin's cabinet discusses them and will be implemented over time, sources said.

The public-safety department will not follow the model of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, which lumped in immigration but left out many public-health matters, but will have broad border responsibilities that will make it a key player in Canadian-U.S. relations.

The department is planned to fill a need for a better co-ordinated response not only to potential terrorism, but to events such as hurricanes and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

In addition, Mr. Martin will have his own national security adviser in the Prime Minister's Office — Rob Wright, currently deputy secretary to the cabinet and former Customs and Revenue commissioner.

The guts of the new security agency will come from the current solicitor-general, including responsibility for the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Corrections Canada. But it will also get emergency-response authority from the Defence Department's Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness.

The department will also have border-policing responsibilities, including managing those now working as customs agents and immigration inspectors at border posts, as well as policing responsibilities for ports and airports.

However, immigration and refugee policy, including selection and settlement of immigrants, will remain in a separate department as the new government feels it would send a negative message to immigrants to combine those functions with policing, sources said.

Bell Globemedia
© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.