An independent report into the 2017 wildfires and floods across British Columbia has found the federal, provincial and local governments were under-prepared for major emergencies.
The report provided 108 recommendations to the province that also includes “a substantial departure from existing practices around the handling of flood, debris flows and wildfires in our province.”
Many of the recommendations are targeted at stronger partnerships with First Nations governments, including improved communication, planning and decision making. The report also recommends the provincial government recognize First Nations jurisdiction on their own territory and the province develop a toolkit for Indigenous communities and rural and remote communities.
“We need to be at the table from the very beginning from the decision making, during the implementation, during all of the process and not be thought of after the fact, after the work has been included,” said Skawahlook First Nation chief and B.C. Flood and Wildfire review co-chair Maureen Chapman.
“A key component of that is integrating local and First Nations community members, and their knowledge, into the emergency management process.”
The 2017 wildfire season was one of the worst in the province’s history. The estimated cost of responding to the wildfires was more than $564 million. The province spent more than $73 million in flood response.
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Chapman and former B.C. Liberal MLA George Abbott chaired the review together and travelled across the province to tour damaged areas and meet with those affected by the floods and fires.
The chairs also recommend the province establish “emergency centres of excellence in Interior locations” and build a hub website for emergency communications.
“2017 was not a one-off and something that will go away, it is something we have to think of not just for 2018 but for every day in the future as far as we can look ahead. It’s a complex problem. Complex problems often have complex solutions,” said Abbott.
“We have offered 108 solutions that we hope are a starting point for the challenges that face families as we face the new normal.”
The provincial government says it is already working on 19 of the 108 recommendations. The majority of the recommendations are longer term goals and may require the provincial government to make legislative changes or involve other levels of government.
“Their 108 recommendations will take some time to fully consider. There are some recommendations that are being acted on already,” said Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson.
“For example, as part of Budget 2018, we’re committing $50 million over three years to wildfire prevention and wildfire risk reduction around communities”
The BC Wildfire Service is in the midst of hiring more staff to support partnerships with Indigenous communities and stakeholders.