Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured areas hit hard by post-tropical storm Fiona Tuesday to survey the damage and see how federal resources are helping out on the ground in Atlantic Canada.
The prime minister visited Stanley Bridge in Prince Edward Island, where a storm surge and hurricane-force winds smashed buildings and tossed fishing boats onto the shore early Saturday.
When pressed by Mitch Jollimore, a local lobster fisherman and the owner of Stanley's Fish and Chips, about the cost of rebuilding, Trudeau vowed to help affected communities on the island.
Trudeau also headed to two communities in Cape Breton — Glace Bay and Sydney — that were pulverized by Fiona.
In Glace Bay, N.S., Trudeau lugged containers full of food for a local food bank and chatted with local residents about the catastrophic damage to their homes and businesses.
"We're here for you," Trudeau told one woman in the former coal mining town.
In Sydney, N.S., Trudeau addressed a room full of cadets at the Coast Guard College and thanked them for their service during Fiona.
"What you have been doing these past days — being a resource for the community — is showing what is the best of Canada, it's people being there for each other in times of distress, times of worry, times of difficulty," Trudeau said.
WATCH | N.S. residents tell Trudeau they're worried about post-cleanup costs:
The situation is still dire in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and P.E.I., where thousands of residents are still without power and roadways have been rendered impassable by storm debris.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Defence Minister Anita Anand said more Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel have been deployed to help with the cleanup and support hydro workers as they restore power to wide swaths of the region still in the dark days after the storm ripped through.
There are now about six platoons working in the three provinces most affected by Fiona — roughly 450 military members. That's up from the 300 or so CAF personnel who were in the region yesterday, Anand said.
Asked if Ottawa would send more, Anand said she's ready to deploy additional soldiers if the provinces ask for the support and if there's work for the CAF to do.
"We must be able to change our strategy if it becomes necessary," she said. "As tasks arrive for the CAF, we obviously will deploy them to those tasks. It is not the case that we don't have troops ready to deploy."
In Port-aux-Basques, the coastal Newfoundland town that was partly flattened by Fiona, the CAF is performing "wellness checks," Anand said. The military personnel — some of whom arrived recently on HMCS Margaret Brooke, an offshore patrol vessel — will help move people away from damaged and high-risk homes, the minister said.
Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings, who represents this area of the province in the Commons, said the stories out of Port-aux-Basques are "heartbreaking and wrenching."
She said the damage is "staggering" but vowed Newfoundlanders will "build back better" once the situation has stabilized.
In Cape Breton, where thousands of the island's many trees were ripped from the ground, soldiers are helping to clear away the debris to make it easier for Nova Scotia Power crews to repair downed power lines. More than 130,000 customers there are still in the dark as crews struggle to reconnect distribution lines in difficult conditions.
In P.E.I., where 60,000 customers are still without power, soldiers are also working alongside Maritime Electric workers to help get the hydro back online.
The sheer number of fallen trees on P.E.I. has made that work difficult to do. CAF members are helping the provincial department of transportation and infrastructure with the cleanup efforts.
Anand said troops will be on the ground for "as long as we're needed" and the storm recovery is "a top priority for us domestically."
The storm is being blamed for two deaths.
A 73-year-old woman in Port aux Basques died Saturday when a storm surge swept her to sea, and Nova Scotia RCMP have said they believe a missing 81-year-old man drowned on Saturday.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he's been in touch with premiers in the region about possible financial support for storm-affected areas.
While this is largely an area of provincial jurisdiction, LeBlanc said there could be a role for the federal government to play in supporting individuals and businesses bearing the brunt of this powerful storm.
LeBlanc said there are conversations ongoing about the government taking a more active role in providing insurance to communities that may become increasingly uninsurable as climate change wreaks havoc.
While the U.S. has a national flood insurance program to help backstop some of the costs of providing coverage, Canada's property and casualty insurance market is almost entirely private.
That means some insurers here may be reluctant to extend coverage to areas increasingly prone to flooding or other natural disasters like wildfires — or the premiums might become too costly for many people to carry.
"This is a direct function of extreme weather events that are, unfortunately, not going to diminish over the coming months," LeBlanc said.
"The status quo that may have existed for the last 20 years doesn't seem like the right posture for the next number of years."