21 June 2011

This week has 22 e-mails

The controversy over the provincial government’s bungling of the emergency response to Hurricane Igor got a bit more curious on Monday when labradore released a series of e-mails he obtained from the provincial government under access to information laws.

The e-mails document a part of the record of how Danny Williams wound up recording a segment of This Hour has 22 Minutes the same week as the disaster.  Coupled with documents released to the Packet in April, they undermine the provincial government’s contention that they needed three or four days to figure out how bad things were before they asked the federal government for assistance.

CBC was originally scheduled to record the Williams’ appearance on September 21.  They put that off until later in the week, but here’s where things get really interesting. 

At 11: 00 AM the day of the storm, Danny Williams’ publicist sent an e-mail to an unidentified person at 22 minutes  that included the following comments:

We've cleared his schedule as we will be going around the province visiting sites. Destruction is widespread already and the storm hasn't even hit full force yet.

At that point they knew things were very bad.  They also knew they’d be “visiting sites”.  They obviously didn’t need to assess the situation since the provincial government’s emergency response organization had all sorts of sources of accurate information on roads, hospitals, schools and anything else going on in the province.  Williams and his crew were planning the standard politicians’ sight-seeing tours of disaster areas.  

Now the official explanation for the four day delay in calling in federal assistance is that the provincial government needed to figure out how bad things were and what they needed to do.    Williams’ successor Kathy Dunderdale, Tom Hedderson,  the municipal affairs minister at the time and the current municipal affairs minister, Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien all have tried on variations of that same argument.

But before noon on the day the storm hit, the Premier’s Office already knew that “Destruction” was widespread.

Later on the same day,  Williams’ publicist wrote this:

State of emergency being declared in a few places already. Major damage and flooding. The place is a mess.

But what really stands out is what you get when you cross reference the comments by Williams’ publicist with situation reporters released to the Packet by the federal government about its response to Igor. For some reason they are on the CBC’s website and not available from either the packet or its daily big-brother, the Telegram.

In an e-mail giving the situation as of 13:15 PM September 21, a federal situation report contained this note:

Highway infrastructure is profoundly impacted. Of all events, Fire and Emergency Services NL (FESNL) has stated that this is by far the worst disaster that they are facing.

The note refers to a death that happened.

But bear in mind this information came to the federal emergency co-ordination team from the provincial government’s team at FESNL.  Public Safety Canada and the National Defence both had liaison officers at the FESNL emergency operations centre to make co-ordination easier.

So if the provincial government had such a handle on the scope of the problem, why did they hesitate to call in extra resources?

Good question.

So far there hasn’t been a good answer.

- srbp -