Ottawa gives $870 million in advance payments to B.C. for disaster recovery

Click to play video: 'Federal government announces $870M in advance payment for B.C. disaster relief events'
Federal government announces $870M in advance payment for B.C. disaster relief events
Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair announced $870-million in advance funding to assist British Columbia with disaster relief on Mon. July 18, 2022. The money will support the rebuilding of damaged infrastructure, and support the province with costs incurred during the recovery from floods and fires – Jul 18, 2022

The federal government is providing $870 million in advance payments to British Columbia to help it rebuild and recover from natural disasters.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced the new federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement funds on Monday in Vancouver.

“With some regularity, we are seeing the devastation that far too many communities have had to endure as a result of the real and growing threat posed by climate change,” said Blair.

“We know that much work is required to get communities back to where they were before these events and to prepare them for future ones.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. government on upcoming trilateral agreement for emergency management during disasters'
B.C. government on upcoming trilateral agreement for emergency management during disasters

Read more: Rebuild of Lytton, B.C. after devastating wildfire to begin by September: minister

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The funds are in addition to Ottawa’s $207-million commitment to B.C. through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement (DFA) announced in June. Together, they are part of a “much larger commitment” to the province’s recovery, Blair said.

Farnworth said new investments will go towards rebuilding damaged infrastructure, including roads and highways, and supporting the provincial government with costs incurred to date.

“Within this money and within the DFA program there is a 15 per cent premium that allows you to build back better,” he explained.

“That’s where we’ve changed some of our provincial program rules to align better with the federal government program so we’re able to leverage this money to ensure we are building back better.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: Assessing damage caused by Nohomin Creek Fire'
B.C. wildfires: Assessing damage caused by Nohomin Creek Fire

Blair and Farnworth recently concluded their fifth and final meeting of a joint provincial, federal and First Nations committee on disaster response and climate resilience.

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The federal and provincial governments are working on a trilateral agreement on emergency management with the First Nations Leadership Council, Farnworth added.

“For far too long, Indigenous people were seen as a vulnerable group when it came to disasters, when in fact, their knowledge and lived experience can provide us with an opportunity as we look to better manage emergencies,” said Blair. “They must be key partners.”

Read more: Large wildfire west of Lytton, B.C. grows to 2,000 hectares as crews continue fight

First Nations Summit political executive Robert Phillips said the new funds are a positive “stepping stone,” and he’s encouraged by the First Nations engagement on the file to date.

“That was excellent access to those that are responsible for emergency preparedness,” he told Global News after the final joint committee meeting. “We’d like to see this continue on.”

Phillips said the “first call” in a disaster must go to First Nations, who can mobilize their first responders to support and strengthen the municipal and provincial response. Governments must also lean on traditional knowledge and expertise in developing disaster and climate change plans, he added, in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“They’re talking about building back better — we’re saying build back better together,” he explained. “This is something that’s going to take decades to work on.”

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Click to play video: 'Nohomin Creek wildfire moving away from the community of Lytton'
Nohomin Creek wildfire moving away from the community of Lytton

The announcement comes as at least six homes of the Lytton First Nation have been razed by the Nohomin Creek wildfire, which as of Monday, spanned more than 17 square kilometres. About 150 have been evacuated from the Lytton area to date, with the fire deemed “out of control.”

Blair and Farnworth both acknowledged the disaster — almost exactly one year after a deadly fire struck Lytton in 2021 — and thanked those fighting the flames on the front lines.

Lytton’s rebuild is still on track to begin in September, Farnworth confirmed.

Read more: Few fires sparked as lightning passes through Okanagan

The province, meanwhile, is overhauling its Emergency Program Act. Last month, it revealed its total funding plan — $513 million — for a new climate change strategy, including flood preparation and resilience plans and an expanded role for the BC Wildfire Service.

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According to a Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Insurance Bureau of Canada report, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change at the municipal level will cost an estimated $5.3 billion per year.

Phillips said he’s keen to see how much of the $870 million announced Monday will go to First Nations, recognizing that every dollar spent on prevention saves money down the road.

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