Volunteer search group says more talks needed to flesh out proposed Nova Scotia Guard

HALIFAX — The president of the Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Association says she’s keeping an open mind as the province gets ready to create a new volunteer corps.

However, Sherry Veinot said it’s still early stages and it’s not clear how the province’s 23 volunteer search and rescue teams will fit into the proposed Nova Scotia Guard. As well, she said, existing search and rescue infrastructure needs more funding to handle a rising number of natural disasters.

Last month, Premier Tim Houston announced his government would create a type of register composed of volunteers with skills who can be called on during emergencies. Over the weekend he took part in two meetings with search and rescue and volunteer firefighting organizations to consult on the new program.

“There are still a lot of discussions that have to happen because we are still so new with this idea,” Veinot, who participated in one of the meetings, said in an interview Monday. “I think it will be worked out, but it’s going to take a lot of time and organizing.”

The premier’s spokeswoman, Catherine Klimek, said talks on the proposed structure of the Nova Scotia Guard will continue over the summer months.

“In the coming weeks, we will be reaching out to more organizations to start booking consultations," Klimek said in an email.

Under legislation expected to be passed this fall, the guard would be overseen by the new Department of Emergency management, which would replace the existing Emergency Management Office. The department is expected to be up and running by the fall.

The purpose of the guard, Houston has said, is to “over-resource” the province with people capable of helping during emergencies such as floods, wildfires or large storms. He said there would be a vetting process to determine how people can help.

Veinot, who works with Lunenburg County Ground Search and Rescue and has 36 years of experience, said her organization vets its own volunteers, adding that it takes time to conduct administrative duties such as criminal background checks.

A provincewide pool of candidates would require “some paid people” to collect data and keep it up to date, she said.

In the meantime, Veinot said ground search and rescue teams are in need of more financial help as they deal with increasingly frequent natural disasters. Each team receives a $3,000 yearly operating grant from the province, but Veinot said that funding hasn’t changed for the past 15 years.

She said she submitted a request six months ago to increase the grant to $10,000 for each team.

“To date I don’t have an answer,” Veinot said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press