Kamloops councillors are calling foul after the province introduced new emergency management legislation without first consulting municipalities about the changes, which some local governments fear will increase their costs and responsibilities.
The Emergency and Disaster Management Act was introduced at the beginning of October and has since received three readings and royal assent. According to a city staff report, while the province didn’t ask municipalities for input before the act was introduced in the legislature, local governments now have the opportunity to submit feedback.
During a council meeting last week, Will Beatty, the city’s emergency preparedness manager, provided an overview of the new legislation.
He said under the act, states of local emergency will last 14 days instead of seven, and can be extended by periods of 14 days with approval from the minister. Governments can retain powers gained by a state of local emergency during a disaster recovery period, which will last 90 days.
Beatty also noted local governments have raised concerns.
“Some of the shared concerns from the local authorities, regional districts and local First Nations was increased responsibility requirements, and expectations around preparing and responding to devastating events that are happening more frequently, and the cost implications to host communities with increased expectations on emergency programs,” Beatty said.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly noted he had a “lot of concerns” with the legislation, particularly as it concerns Kamloops’ role as a host community for evacuees displaced by natural disasters. He said Kamloops will need support from the province in order to fulfil these duties, adding government funding shouldn’t be given out based on population size.
“The amount of people that we actually host in Kamloops from natural disasters is significantly higher than most other places, I would suggest, in British Columbia,” he said.
“We are the evacuee host of Canada — and that's not a title that we want, but nonetheless, it's a lot of people that we have here. And something needs to be done, it’s not something we can bear on our shoulders.”
O’Reilly noted it’s one thing to receive compensation after events have happened, but the city also needs capital investment for facilities like an evacuee welcoming centre.
Beatty said the B.C. government is reviewing its Disaster Financial Assistance program, the framework through which it allows a host community to recover funds. He added city administration is also in discussions with the province about capital funding.
Coun. Katie Neustaeter expressed concern with volunteer fatigue, saying she’d like to know if the province has any measures in mind which could "support the human effort” assisting during disasters.
Coun. Bill Sarai asked if Beatty thinks there’s an appetite at the provincial level to hear from municipalities at this stage.
Beatty said he believes the province is open to hearing feedback and wants to understand the host community model.
"It sounds like they're hearing what we're saying when it comes to changes in Disaster Financial Assistance, capital investment,” Beatty said.
“Even little things like the extension on states of local emergency, they're listening to what member municipalities have to say — they just didn't consult properly.”
Coun. Kelly Hall wasn’t convinced, noting municipalities were being asked to provide feedback while legislation was waiting for royal assent.
“You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little cynical with respect to them actually listening to what we’re trying to articulate to them,” Hall said.
In response to a motion put forward by Neustaeter, council voted in favour of writing a letter to relevant provincial officials and sending a copy to the Southern Interior Local Government Association, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District — which expressed its own concerns with the legislation at a prior meeting.
The letter will outline council's concerns about the act and the province’s lack of consultation, and request local governments be allowed to see the next draft of the legislation before it moves forward.
Editor's note: A previous version of the story said the Emergency and Disaster Management Act was awaiting royal assent. In fact, the new legislation has received royal assent.