Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart says that the Province has failed to to take responsibility for the state of the town of Lytton, following the fire on June 30, 2021 that destroyed 90 per cent of the community.
Nearly seven months after the fire, the village looks much as it did on July 1, apart from fences that have been put up to hide the damage, and a blanket of snow. Tegart says that just a week after the fire, when she had the opportunity to fly over the site with Premier John Horgan, the Deputy Premier, and the Forests Minister, she told them that the Province needed to send in a team to help.
“I said ‘You need to understand that people are traumatized. They ran for their lives, their community burnt to the ground, and I can well imagine that no one knows where to start.’ I said that the Province needed a recovery plan, a document that outlined that a team was needed with expertise in immediate, medium, and long-term recovery.
“Their response was ‘We’ll wait for local government to ask for what they need.’ My reply was ‘How can you expect that from people who have, in the last week, lost their community, and who never imagined finding themselves in a place where they would be even considering the situation of totally rebuilding it?’”
Tegart’s disappointment over that response from government continues.
“Government has a responsibility to do more than throw money at a problem. They have the expertise, the ability to fill in the gaps, assist the leadership and residents of Lytton. There’s been a bit of a revolving door there, and what we need is commitment and true leadership in order to move through recovery.”
Tegart adds that she is talking about the Province, not the people on the ground who have been working hard to move things forward. “People locally have looked after neighbours, collected and fed animals, done everything they can to support each other, but there’s a bigger picture that needs to be developed with the people of Lytton, and the expertise and leadership for that is provincial.”
After the flooding in mid-November, she says she received messages from people from Lytton saying “please don’t forget us”. “There was so much happening in the province, and so little happening in Lytton, and the concern was ‘Oh my God, where are we on the list of disasters.’ I spent a lot of time last fall speaking about Lytton in the legislature. I asked questions, and made a number of statements, and I’ve had a whole lot of non-answers.”
She says that she knows people are writing to government about the situation in Lytton, and notes that it’s helpful to copy her on the messages. “That way I know what’s been sent and can advocate on their behalf. If people are having issues they can contact my office; we’re here to help. Lots of times we can find solutions to on-the-ground stuff, but the gap seems to be in the bigger planning stuff.”
Another disaster last year was the heat dome that settled over the province in late June, just prior to the Lytton fire, and which is now known to have been responsible for nearly 600 deaths, according to the BC Coroners Service. Tegart says the Province failed to adequately prepare for something that they knew for weeks was coming.
“Talk to the BC Ambulance Service, which was overwhelmed by calls. People were working unbelievable hours during the heat dome, but where was the plan? This government has been promising a revamp of emergency management since they got into government two terms ago, and when you ask questions in the legislature they say ‘It’s coming.’
“I think the citizens of B.C. expect their government will have a plan. For those of us who live in rural B.C., wildfires aren’t a surprise, so we expect government to have a plan on how they support communities and address emergent issues, and to be open and transparent about actions they’re taking. We need the revamp of the emergency plan. Programs like Emergency Support Services and Disaster Financial Assistance aren’t meant to deal with these sorts of disasters. They’re intended for when one family is burnt out of their house, not for when a whole community is burnt to the ground.”
The provincial government has been criticized for its failure to use a province-wide emergency alert system to warn about impending events such as the heat dome, instead leaving it to individual municipalities and regional districts to implement their own systems. Tegart says she doesn’t know why the Province has failed to put a wider system in place.
“I don’t know if it’s a concern about accountability, or if it’s pure stubbornness. We’re one of the few provinces not using it, and looking at the year we had in 2021 I would urge government to re-look at their position. It can’t be that hard, and if there are barriers it’s their job to take down those barriers for the safety of citizens.How much sense does it make to have each municipality spending time, staff time, and money to have a patchwork system that needs a provincial view?
“I’ll continue pushing to ensure that work is done to get a provincial alert system going, and that government tables the emergency legislation.”
To be continued