“It’s comprehensive, and reflects some of the challenges we knew about last year,” says Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart of “Addressing the New Normal”, the report and findings of the BC Flood and Wildfire Review. “The key is how soon [the recommendations] can be implemented.
“My first question is time lines. And what is the budget? We ask how many dollars are in each ministry’s budget [for flood and fire] and the answer is zero.”
Tegart says that emergency plans in the province were not built for a mass evacuation. “They’re for a single house fire, and that’s not what we saw last year. We need planning and communication. What is the government’s plan?” She adds that she will be looking for a government response to the report’s 108 recommendations within the next week or two. [The government has stated that 19 of the report’s 108 recommendations are being implemented, although it has not identified which ones.]
“We need to look at how to prepare for another fire season like last year. People are coming to grips with climate change and are very aware of Fire Smart [programs] in our communities and the need to protect our homes. I feel people were resistant in the past to making changes.”
Tegart says that she has spoken with people in forestry, who note that fire has not been a natural part of forests for many years. “In our need to control things we’ve been resistant. After last year people are saying ‘Wow, we need to do a better job on this.’ We assumed, or hoped, it would never happen to us. Then it happened, and we couldn’t stop it.
“We learned a lot, and it’s good that it worked as well as it did, but we need to do better.”
Noting that we live in a new world of social media, with information and misinformation spreading rapidly, Tegart is glad that one of the report’s recommendations is a central information hub constantly updated with information, where people can go to get the correct info. “It will be interesting to see how the hub works.”
She also notes that last year’s fires showed very clearly the different jurisdictions involved. “People said ‘My boundary is here.’ We need to plan differently and ignore these boundaries. We need coordinated planning. Everything affects everything else. What is the funding model, what will it be for, and how accessible will it be? Fire Smart needs partnerships and funding. We’ve got the report, but if there’s no money tied to it then it just sits on a shelf.
“Last year was a learning year. We’re back in the flood and fire season now, and we need to get on this. There’s a willingness right now that we should be moving forward. Lots of people are working on this, and they’re expecting [the report] not to sit on a shelf. It means a lot to our people, and we can’t afford to wait.”
Addressing flooding—which is once more devastating many areas of the province—Tegart says that it is the new normal.
“Ranchers and farmers are seeing flooding, then drought. Where does water storage and diversion come into the plan? The report talks about disaster management, and how this is now a common event. What do we do to mitigate that before flooding starts?
“We need to put a process together that includes people who make the rules. It’s a time when things are changing. We need to balance regulations. We all want fish-bearing streams, but all levels of government need to be at the table to talk about this. Where do we allow people to build homes?
“The report is an opportunity to say ‘What does the planning process look like?’ We need to get people at the table and see what role they have to play in planning, doing the work, and paying for it. How much did floods and wildfires cost last year? How much could we have saved with mitigation? I see an opportunity, with this report, for all four levels of government to sit down and talk about what we can collectively do to help our citizens.”