Ottawa needs to redefine what 'being there' for hard-hit communities means

Help for those hardest hit

At the time of writing this week’s report, Merritt, Princeton and the surrounding areas, including Indigenous communities in these regions, are once again threatened by heavy rainfalls that have resulted in more evacuation orders issued.

I am certain all Canadians join me in expressing our strong support to those who have been severely impacted by these devastating floods.

Already, with some clean up underway, local governments in both Merritt and Princeton, as well as nearby Indigenous communities, have reported damage that is easily in the tens of millions of dollars.

Here in Canada, we have a federal program called the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. It lays out the terms of federal assistance that is available to provincial and territorial governments in the event of a disaster.

As a rough guideline for a per capita expenditure up to $3.27 per person, there is no federal financial assistance available. For per capita expenditures that exceed that amount, the first $6.56 per capita will result in the federal cost share being raised to 50% while the next $6.56 increases the federal share up to 75% and any amount over that is a 90% federal cost share.

The federal cost share will only apply to eligible expenditures.

The first challenge is that these federal funds can only be directly paid to provincial or territorial governments and cannot be paid directly to local governments. Due to the federal program being limited to provincial or territorial governments, this results in a secondary provincial disaster program for local governments being required.

Here in B.C. the provincial program is called Disaster Financial Assistance for Local Communities. This program works differently from the federal program in that once a disaster is declared, that in turn makes it eligible for the program funding. Each accepted claim has a maximum cost sharing limit of 80 percent of the total eligible damage, less the first $1,000.

The issue for small communities like Merritt and Princeton is, with damages in the tens of millions of dollars and a very small tax base, there is absolutely no ability to fund the required 20% of the critically required repairs and rebuilding of civic infrastructure.

That creates a situation where local mayors and councils face extremely difficult decisions with bills piling up that are not in the budget and well beyond their community’s’ ability to pay for them. This is one of the serious concerns the mayors of these communities have shared with me and, in turn, I directly asked the prime minister about in the House of Commons earlier this week.

When I asked him about this, the answer I received was basically that the federal government will "be there."
What does this mean? Statutorily, through legislation, the federal government is already obligated to “be there” to provide disaster assistance. However, when it comes to municipalities, the unaffordable 20% funding requirement remains in effect.

Unless there is a new definition from the federal government of what being there or having the backs of these communities means, the current disaster funding formula remains in effect and is insufficient.

Which brings me to my question for you this week:

Do you believe the federal government should address the 20% disaster funding requirement for local communities such as Merritt and Princeton, which have been devastated by these floods?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.

Albas asks if MPs need to be present in the House of Commons to participate

Need MPs in Commons?

This week, more than two months since the September federal election, the House of Commons is finally back in session.

The first order of business is always to elect a new Speaker, which is a democratic process voted on by all Members of Parliament. This year there were seven different candidates for Speaker before the MP from Nipissing—Timiskaming Ontario, Anthony Rota, was re-elected to this same role he held in the previous Parliament.

With the Speaker elected, the next order of business was the throne speech, that was, for the first time since her appointment as Governor General, read by Mary Simon in three different languages.

The title of this year’s throne speech was “Building a resilient economy” and contained many of the same promises the Liberals made in the recent election.

Over the next week in the House, there will be debate on the throne speech by both government and opposition MPs.

There are also some ongoing procedural debates occurring in Ottawa this week. How vaccination and medical exemptions are regulated within the House of Commons is one active topic of discussion. Another is the ongoing debate between an in-person Parliament and a hybrid Parliament, where MPs do not have to physically be in the House of Commons to participate in votes or debates.

The Liberal government is also expected to table bills it expects to be passed before the House rises in mid-December. When these bills are tabled, I will provide more information on them in future weekly reports.

Finally, this week, I have joined with other opposition MPs from British Columbia and have requested an emergency debate regarding the disastrous flooding situation in parts of British Columbia, including in the communities of Merritt and Princeton in my riding.

At the time of writing this report, I can announce the request for the emergency debate was granted and was to occur during the evening hours on Wednesday (Nov. 24).

I have been in regular contact with elected leaders and members of both Princeton and Merritt and have serious concerns that adequate levels of provincial and federal government resources can be delivered in the manner requested and as needed.

This will be a topic I will raise both provincially and federally to ensure communities such as Merritt and Princeton receive the support they need.

My question this week relates to the hybrid versus in-person parliament.

This week’s question is:

Is it your preference that MPs show up to work in Ottawa to participate in votes and debate or are you supportive of the hybrid model, where debate and votes can occur with MPs back in their home riding?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711

MP says he, and the federal government, are ready to help flood victims

Responding to flooding

There is a saying in social media—“I can’t un-see that”—often associated with online posts the depict some sort of rarely seen, almost impossible to comprehend act or event conveniently captured in a manner that generates “likes” by viewers.

Sadly, here in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, Fraser Valley and in parts of Vancouver Island this past week, we cannot, and will not, ever un-see the devastation and destruction caused by record levels of rainfall and resulting flooding.

Merritt, a community over 7,000 people strong, is currently evacuated. Motorists are still stranded in various places throughout the central and southern regions of B.C. Many grocery stores are running low on some basic groceries. Supply chains, for the moment, are stressed.

For the people in Merritt and Princeton, they are experiencing devastation on a level never before encountered. Both these communities have suffered break downs in local infrastructure, with basic community services such as water and sewer being threatened.

As an added challenge, in Princeton a natural gas line has been compromised and many residents are without heat with a predicted low temperature forecast of -8 C at night.

At the time of writing this report this week from Ottawa, I have just concluded a meeting with our federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and a number of my colleagues who represent ridings in the Fraser Valley that are also threatened with flooding and evacuation orders.

I would like to publicly thank the minister, who has consistently reached out and made himself available through this ongoing disaster. We have had assurances, both from minister Blair and the prime minister, that the federal government will stand by to assist regions of British Columbia severely impacted by these floods and related mud slides.

To the good people of Merritt and Princeton, as well as the surrounding areas, please know that federally we will do everything possible to assist in the days, weeks and months ahead. My phone is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every effort will be made to ensure you are called back as promptly as possible.

There is no question our region has experienced a challenging six months, between wildfire threats and now serious flooding and mudslides. The resulting damage has yet to be assessed but it will likely be on a massive scale. Aside from damage to homes, properties, community, and provincial infrastructure, there is also the serious toll on the people who call these areas home and who are the most impacted.

The reality is as our climate increasingly changes, we are not as prepared as we need to be for these resulting disasters.

My question this week:

What solutions do you believe would most enhance our emergency preparedness?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call free 1-800-665-8711.


Prime Minister needs to consult provinces on emissions caps

PM should talk to provinces

This week it was the leader of the official Opposition's turn to announce his appointments of shadow cabinet critics in the new Parliament.

I was honoured to be returned to the role of shadow minister for Environment and Climate Change. This news arrived to me as I was attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

As I mentioned in my report last week, it was earlier at this conference where Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector. It was an announcement that provoked much discussion, given the exact details of this announcement to get emissions to net zero by 2050 within this Canadian industry remain unknown.

I also raised the concern that other countries such as Saudi Arabia and USA, which import oil and gas into Canada, are not following this policy of setting emissions caps or a “price on pollution.”

In last week’s column, my weekly question was “How do you think the government should deal with oil and gas imports from other countries that are not subject to these same types of policies?”.

There was a significant number of well-thought out responses to this question and I would like to sincerely thank those who took the time to share their ideas.

One other challenge has also since emerged. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has stated that at no time did the prime minister or the environment and climate change minister ever pick up the phone to consult, or otherwise communicate with him, about the policy promise to cap Canadian oil and gas emissions.

This is problematic because oil and gas regulation in Canada remains an area of provincial jurisdiction.

It is also my concern that actions to reduce our emissions here in Canada are important. Likewise, the need for the federal government to work with the provinces is critical. Taking action on our environment should not be done divisively, in a manner that pits regions of Canada against each other.

I believe strongly that the prime minister has an obligation to work with the premiers and that includes consultation and communication on policies that are within provincial jurisdiction.

My question this week is: Do you agree?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.

More Dan in Ottawa articles

About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the critic for Environment and Climate Change.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

Dan  is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active Members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and also continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

Dan welcomes comments, questions and concerns from citizens and is often available to speak to groups and organizations on matters of federal concern. 

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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