B.C.’s public safety minister is fielding more questions on his government’s handling of the most recent record-breaking rain and flooding that’s stranded hundreds of people and caused a still-unknown amount of damage.
In question period on Tuesday, Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau asked the government whether its emergency response system is flawed or whether the province was hit harder than expected, amid calls from people affected by the mudslides and flooding to provide a larger, province-wide warning ahead of adverse weather.
Furstenau also pointed to Washington state, where officials provided sandbags for communities over the weekend to deal with the same severe weather.
“In regional districts, which account for the vast majority of land in B.C., roads and highways are under provincial jurisdiction, and when we have climate events that are going to impact huge swaths of the province, the provincial government needs to play a proactive role in emergency preparation and response,” she said.
“The Minister of Public Safety has said that the responsibility for preparedness and emergency response largely falls on local governments. But this weather affected the entire province, and this provincial government is responsible for provincial highways.”
In response, Minister Mike Farnworth said local governments, highway contractors and Emergency Management BC did “an amazing job” during incredibly difficult conditions, and went over the work being done to overhaul the Emergency Protection Act to focus on prevention, mitigation, response and recovery.
“We recognize that climate change is playing a fundamental role in the challenges that we are facing, in the disasters and the emergencies that are facing us. That’s why we’ve undertaken significant work,” Farnworth said.
“At the same time, it’s recognizing that on-the-ground, local emergencies are dealt with by the local governments and the local communities because they know the situation and the problem spots in their communities.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan were scheduled to talk Tuesday evening about federal support.
“(I’m) obviously extremely concerned about the situation in British Columbia right now,” Trudeau told reporters earlier on Tuesday. “As a government, we’ve been liaising closely with the government of British Columbia, providing supports in any way we can, and we will continue to be there.”
The storm response has led the First Nations Leadership Council to call on the province to declare an indefinite state of emergency.
Many First Nations are under evacuation order or alert and have been left navigating an “onerous and complicated provincial emergency funding system” that fails to meet their needs, the council said in a news release.
“B.C. must deploy all available resources and enact extraordinary measures,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in the release. “This can only happen by declaring a State of Emergency. Weather forecasts indicate that the emergency may have just begun.”