OTTAWA Canada's government and army have largely been invisible as huge fires rip through the economically critical oil sands region of Alberta, a reflection of a constitution that curbs Ottawa's power.
The federal government has so far provided four Griffin helicopters, one Hercules transport plane and 7,000 cots to help Alberta cope with a fire that forced the evacuation of around 90,000 people from Fort McMurray.
This limited response reflects the limitations of Canada's constitutional make-up. The 10 provinces have broad jurisdictional powers, which means Ottawa can only intervene if formally asked to do so.
"Emergency management is a shared responsibility between all levels of government in Canada," said Dan Brien, chief spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is coordinating the federal effort.
If a community needs help it first turns to the provincial government, he said. If that government cannot cope, it then approaches Ottawa.
"Nobody works in isolation. There is engagement at all levels during a crisis," Brien said by telephone.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Friday that it was too early to say what kind of an effort would be needed to deal with the crisis. "We haven't had a chance to get in to do a thorough assessment ... Generally speaking there's a long road ahead," she said
The federal government is offering other kinds of help, such as satellite information, matching funds donated to the Red Cross as well as promising emergency support for the victims and long-term assistance to help Alberta recover.
But precious few of the 70,000-strong armed forces are anywhere near the disaster region. A group of 350 soldiers are on standby in the province to act as emergency firefighters.
Ottawa has in the past deployed significant numbers of troops to help deal with natural disasters, most notably in January 1998, when an ice storm crippled parts of Quebec, Ontario and Quebec.
After the three provinces asked for help, Ottawa provided more than 15,000 troops.
The provinces guard their powers carefully and Ned Franks, a political professor at Queen's University in Kingston, said Ottawa would wait for a request before acting.
"Without the support of the provincial government it would certainly cause far more outrage than useful results," he said in a phone interview.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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Updated Date: May 07, 2016 03:47 AM