State of emergency declared in B.C.

The B.C. government has declared a state of emergency following the devastation caused by flooding.

A bridge on the Coquihalla Highway at Juliet is one of many badly damaged during the Nov. 14, 2021 storm. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation image

The B.C. government has declared a provincial state of emergency following the storm system that hammered southern B.C. on Nov. 14, causing widespread devastation to communities and transportation infrastructure that connects B.C.

The province declared the state of emergency started on Nov. 17 and is in effect for two weeks and can be extended or rescinded at any time.

In a statement, the province said the state of emergency was designed to “mitigate the impacts on transportation networks and movement of essential goods and supplies, and to support the provincewide response and recovery from the widespread damage caused by severe flooding and landslides in British Columbia.”

In a statement, Premier John Horgan said governments were coordinating their responses. “Provincial, federal and local governments are working with emergency personnel to make sure people and communities get the help they need as they work through yet another natural disaster. This provincial declaration of emergency will ensure the transport of goods, and essential and emergency services.”

Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth, said, “Getting our rail and roadways back up and in operation is a top priority, and the declaration will enable us to put the resources in place to make that happen.”

“Our focus is on clearing, repairing and reopening roads to connect the Interior and the North to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, to get our supply chains moving,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “We are working closely with multiple partners to make this happen. It is a big job, but collectively we are up to the challenge and will get things opened up again just as soon as we possibly can.”

There are approximately 17,775 people evacuated due to impacts from the flooding, with 5,918 properties on Evacuation Order, and 3,632 properties on Evacuation Alert.

The government has faced criticism for slow responses to the climate change disasters that have ravaged B.C. and the Interior in 2021, including the historic widlfires and now devastation created by the widespread flooding.

Generally, the opposition BC Liberal Party panned the BC NDP government for a slow response:

Right now, thousands of people across the province are worried, concerned about their safety as floodwaters block roadways and damage property,” added Mike Morris, BC Liberal Critic for Public Safety and Solicitor General. “People need to see real leadership from this NDP government, and that means action, clear communication, and assurances that government has their back. Unfortunately, too many British Columbians feel let down and abandoned by the NDP for the third time this year. It is extremely frustrating that a government that so often speaks of the dangers of climate change has failed at every possible opportunity to properly prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters, leaving people on the ground to deal with the fallout.

The BC Greens also said the BC NDP goverment was slow to act and has not demonstrated in action that it is prepared for the climate crisis. The party issued the following statement attributed to Leader of the BC Greens, MLA Sonia Furstenau, on Nov. 17:

Calling this state of emergency is a necessary but overdue step to better respond to the flooding that has resulted in loss of life, devastation in communities, and displacement of thousands of British Columbians. This call should have been made days ago, when the effects of the rainfall were beginning to be made clear, to help British Columbians prepare and change their travel plans. While local communities have had to deal with the impact of this emergency, a disaster of this scale is clearly a province-wide emergency.

B.C. is reported to be the only province in Canada to have not used our emergency alert system. That very system was meant to be tested today, but delayed due to the genuine emergency. This provincial government must learn from this year’s failures to warn the public in cases of extreme weather, and they must become more proactive in communicating risks to health, safety, and infrastructure due to climate change. 

The impacts of climate change are going to continue to accelerate and we must get out of the reactive mode that this government has adopted. Emergency preparedness must become a top priority. The government needs to work with First Nations and local governments to ensure better communications, more proactive responses and honest assessment of how to create resiliency. British Columbians deserve to know that the government has a plan, what that plan is, and that it is doing everything possible to mitigate the effects of these escalating climate disasters.

This majority government has brought forward no legislation related to climate change or emergency preparedness. The 2021 budget introduced this spring had only passing references to climate change. It’s evident from their priorities this legislative session these major problems are not top of mind. Following the delayed response to this summer’s devastating heat dome, this is a very worrying pattern. I’m increasingly concerned that they fail to grasp the scale of action required to protect British Columbians and their livelihoods.