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MPs hold emergency debate on Fiona response, PM Trudeau to visit impacted regions

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Members of Parliament held an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday night, giving MPs a chance to discuss "the urgent and escalating situation in Atlantic Canada" following the deadly and destructive post-tropical storm Fiona.

That was how NDP MP and emergency preparedness critic Richard Cannings characterized the topic for debate, in making his request to House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota.

"Fiona was the strongest storm ever to make landfall in Canada, with several lives lost, many homes swept out to sea, bridges and airports and other infrastructure damaged, docks destroyed… This is the first opportunity this House will have to discuss the federal response to the storm. And we need to hear how the government plans to help Atlantic Canada in this unprecedented situation," Cannings said.

Cumberland-Colchester, N.S. MP Stephen Ellis also made a request for the debate, which began once the regularly-scheduled business of the day concluded, at around 6:30 p.m. ET, and continued until midnight.

"Canadians in general also want to understand clearly the rapidity, and the extent, and the process that will be involved for them to gain the support that they so dearly need. We shall overcome this of course… but without robust debate here in this House of Commons people will not know exactly what will happen in the next steps," Ellis said.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't take part, speaking with reporters earlier in the day, Trudeau confirmed plans to visit the regions in Atlantic Canada impacted by Fiona "as soon as possible this week."

While indicating a desire to not interfere with any of the emergency response efforts on the ground, Trudeau said he wants all people in eastern Canada "to know that we are here for you."

"The one thing that's been consistent in my calls to premiers, mayors and MPs, is that Canadians are stepping up for each other and helping their communities get through this tough time," Trudeau said during a federal update on the storm response efforts Monday. 

'LIVES HAVE BEEN UPSET': POILIEVRE

Atlantic Canada was pummeled by the post-tropical storm on Saturday, resulting in extensive destruction, downed trees, and widespread power outages as a result of strong winds and coastal flooding.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, where the body of a 73-year-old woman was recovered Sunday afternoon after homes in Port aux Basques were swept out to sea, Minister of Rural Economic Development said Monday that 76 homes have been destroyed or structurally damaged.

"It will be a long time before this area gets back on its feet,” she said, calling what she’s seen first-hand “gut-wrenching” while imploring those who were evacuated to not try to get back into their properties to retrieve personal items until local authorities say it’s safe.

In Prince Edward Island, major tourist spots appear to have experienced significant flooding and erosion, and one person has died, with the preliminary investigation suggests that generator issues may have played a role.

As is the case across the region, hundreds of thousands of residents in Nova Scotia are still without power, and on Monday afternoon, the RCMP said that a missing 81-year-old Lower Prospect, N.S., resident is believed to have been swept to sea during the storm.

Across the Atlantic, Canadians will be left cleaning up extensive property damage for some time, including in parts of New Brunswick and on Quebec's Magdalen Islands.

"The storm has passed, but thousands of homes are still experiencing power outages, and the scale of the damage means that people are still facing a tough time," Trudeau said, adding that Canadians’ thoughts are with the family members of those confirmed dead, as well as those who have lost their homes or businesses.

Leading off question period, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on the government to present an "action plan" as well as offer more details about how opposition MPs can help join in the federal response efforts, "to make that help a success."

"I'd like to express our full solidarity on behalf of the Official Opposition toward all the families in the Atlantic and Eastern Quebec, whose lives have been upset by Fiona," Poilievre said. "What will the government do to speed up our response, to help those who feed all of us get back on their feet?" he continued, asking about Fiona's impact on farmers and fishers.

Questions were also raised around whether issues with the soon-optional ArriveCan app led to holdups for American crews coming to help, which the government denied, saying there were "no delays."

LATEST ON AID, MILITARY DEPLOYMENT 

Hundreds of members of the Canadian Armed forces have been deployed to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador to clear debris and help to re-establish electricity, to get communications and power back across the Atlantic provinces.

“Joint Task Force Atlantic Fifth Canadian Division, Canadian Rangers, local reserve units, Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft and crew, and Royal Canadian Navy ships, small vessels and crew in the region are all on standby and helping wherever needed,” said Defence Minister Anita Anand during Monday’s update. “I want to reassure you that the Canadian Armed Forces are meeting the challenge and they are helping everywhere where they are needed.”

Naval vessels and aircraft are also on "high readiness" to assist further if needed, and in certain regions, aerial imagery and mapping of damages is also taking place, as are wellness checks.

Offering assistance in the immediate aftermath over the weekend, the federal government is pledging to provide disaster funding where needed, and over the next few weeks will be matching any Fiona relief donations made to the Red Cross, which is on the ground assisting with interim housing, clothing, food, and essential supply needs. 

"I know Canadians are watching with consternation, either the images that they've seen, or like so many Canadians, having friends and family members in Atlantic Canada that we've been worried about. It's an opportunity to step up and give what we can to support people on the ground," Trudeau said about the donation-matching program.

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