Another year, another series of “Year in Review” columns. They can often be an enjoyable trawl through the past 12 months, but some years are more pleasant than others, and on the whole 2021 has definitely been on the “less pleasant” side (and there are still three months of it to cover, in next week’s issue).
When it came time to write up 2017, I remember thinking that years couldn’t get much worse than that one, which was a catalogue of disasters and tragedies from January 1 through July. Well, from your lips to God’s ears, as the saying goes, because 2021 is right up there with 2017 as a year that has been brutal to go back and relive.
And if it’s been brutal for me, I can only imagine how it’s been for those who have been profoundly affected by 2021’s events, from the pandemic and heat dome through fires and floods. In September, the Journal published a piece by Lytton resident Denise O’Connor, who raised concerns about how little had been done for that community, 75 days after the fire that destroyed 90 per cent of it. We’re now a further 100+ days past that point, and it’s tragic to note that the community looks much as it did on July 1.
Sad to say, Lytton residents are probably right to feel that they are something less than a high priority for several levels of government, despite many fine words from politicians. Fine words butter no parsnips, however. As legendary Vancouver punk rock band D.O.A. said on the cover of their album War on 45, “Talk – action = zero”, and there has been a lot of talk about Lytton, backed up by precious little in the way of action.
And if Lytton residents felt left behind before the “atmospheric river” on Nov. 14/15, they must be despairing now. It was undoubtedly a marvel that the Coquihalla Highway was reopened 35 days after suffering catastrophic damage, but one wonders what Lytton would look like now if a fraction of the political will that got the highway back up and running had been extended towards rebuilding that town.
Let’s not forget everyone impacted by the atmospheric river, which has left several hundred people out of their homes and destroyed countless properties. The Province seems to be making progress on getting Highway 1 reopen, and repairing some of Highway 8, but these large infrastructure projects are very different to the work required when it comes to rebuilding homes and businesses. Highways are straightforward, whereas rebuilding communities is big and messy and complicated, involving as it does people’s lives rather than just steel and concrete.
When it comes to flood rebuilding, we have to hope that rural and First Nations communities are not overlooked in the scramble to repair Abbotsford and Sumas Prairie and Merritt and Princeton and anywhere else perceived to have more clout or economic significance, but what has happened (or rather not happened) in Lytton doesn’t exactly provide a sense of confidence. Larger centres are apt to get assistance first, as rural communities do not seem very high on the provincial government’s radar. If they were, then Highway 1 through the canyon — with its hundreds of residents currently cut off from most travel routes — might already be celebrating a reopening, rather than having to wait in line behind the Coquihalla (which last time I checked had few, if any, people living along the damaged sections).
If all this is leaving you feeling depressed and hopeless, there is something you can do. Write to your MP and say that you want to know what action is being taken to help Lytton, and rural residents affected by flooding. Write to your MLA, and also write to Premier John Horgan and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, demanding to know what is happening. Let them know that all eyes are on them, and will be throughout the New Year. Resolving to take this action is a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.