Funding needed to help communities with climate adaptation

The price of climate change

It seems summer has come early to British Columbia, and while most of us welcome the barbecues and beach days that come with the heat, the unseasonably hot weather is worrying for many.

Communities across B.C. experienced record-setting high temperatures this past week. At the same time, half of B.C. is under flood watches, warnings or advisories.

As I write this, the entire city of Fort St. John is under evacuation alert because of wildfires and in Alberta 100 wildfires have forced nearly 30,000 people from their homes. (Editor’s note: Fort St. John rescinded the order Wednesday but 1,300 properties in the surrounding area remain under an evacuation order)

Unfortunately, this is not new for us. In the past few years, Canadians have endured heat domes, droughts, flooding, atmospheric rivers and the strongest storm to ever make landfall in Canada. The human costs have been catastrophic and the costs to communities, livelihoods and infrastructure are staggering.

Within my riding, the town of Grand Forks braced itself again last week for more flooding, a concern that seems to be an almost annual event now. After its devastating floods in 2018, the community persisted through a long and painful process with the federal government to secure recovery funding.

Similar stories can be told by those from Princeton and Merritt and right across the country. This kind of behaviour from the federal government has to change. I have made countless interventions in Ottawa to create a more cooperative relationship between the federal government and communities in these situations and talked once again recently with the emergency preparedness minister about the concerns of these communities.

We have government programs to help people who have their homes damaged by disasters, but those programs are embedded in bureaucracies that often turn anxious weeks into anxious months or years. On top of that, some analyses show the federal government is underfunding disaster adaptation funding by $13 billion.

Federal programs, such as the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, are meant to help communities hit by overwhelming events such as fires, floods and hurricanes. In my experience, these communities, especially small communities, are left to do the heavy lifting in the rebuilding process, while they have neither the financial capability to pay for those actions nor the capacity to navigate the bureaucracy to access the programs.

The town of Oliver applied to the fund for help when its irrigation canal was destroyed by a rockfall. But the $10 million request failed because it was too small—there was no federal program for requests under $20 million.

I pressed the government for years to fix that gap and it eventually did—but it was too late for Oliver, as it had already fixed the canal with only provincial government support.

Municipalities across Canada are asking for help but, unfortunately, the government is not stepping up. Every year Canadians spend about $5 billion repairing damages from weather-related disasters across the country. Those costs are largely born by individuals and insurance companies. The federal government covers only about 10% of those costs. That annual expense is expected to rise to $50 billion by 2050, 10 times what it is now.

Both the NDP and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are calling for $2 billion in annual federal funding to go directly to climate adaptation projects, helping communities to create more resilient infrastructure.

We need investments that protect Canadians, so they do not see their homes wash away on a storm surge, investments in heat pumps that would allow low-income Canadians to have air conditioning so we will not have a repeat of the 619 people who died during the heat dome in metro Vancouver last year and investments in FireSmart programs to protect neighbourhoods located at the interface with forests.

I will keep fighting for families and communities and will continue pressuring the government to provide every community with needed climate adaptation support. In the coming months and years, families and municipalities will be forced to make difficult and painful decisions about the future of their communities, and they will need strong support from the federal government.

Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Government needs to do more for Canadian workers says MP

Supporting workers

Boss Man Boss Man pay my rent
A dollar I've earned is a dollar I've spent
The company plan takes all my check
For breakin' my back and riskin' my neck

— Boss Man by Gordon Lightfoot

Earlier this week, as I listened to the song, Boss Man by the late Gord Lightfoot, the lyrics moved me for many reasons, his passing being just one.

This week we gathered for the National Day of Mourning dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives, suffered injury or illness on the job. We marked May Day, a celebration of the labour movement and a day recognizing the strength and unity of workers around the world. All of this amid what is one of Canada’s largest ever strike actions and soaring costs of living.

Canadian workers are playing by the rules and doing everything right, but they still can’t get ahead. No workers want to strike, but they need wages that keep up with inflation. Most of the federal workers that were seeking higher wages in the recent strike were making only $40,000 to $60,000 per year, and reports show the average federal worker’s wages have only just kept up with inflation since 2007. Now, more than ever, we must stand with all workers, especially those who have been disproportionately affected by the inflation crisis and the resulting economic hardships. Canadians need to be able to know that their government and representatives are working for them.

As part of the confidence and supply agreement between the federal NDP and Liberals, we’ve forced the government to make significant investments in people, from dental care for children to rent top-ups and doubling of the GST tax credit. We delivered 10 paid sick days for workers in sectors under federal jurisdiction, such as banks and transportation.? We’ve successfully demanded investments in affordable housing and childcare and forced the government to take the interest off student loans, permanently. Without New Democrats holding the balance of power, none of these promises would have been kept.

But Canadians are still struggling. Workers are leading the struggle and we’re pushing alongside them. This year we’ll secure dental for teens, seniors, and people with disabilities, and we’ll demand a national pharmacare framework by the end of 2023.

The only power workers have in negotiations with employers is the ability to withdraw their services and go on strike. Employers often take away that power by hiring replacement workers, creating situations that divide communities and prolong disputes.

The NDP has tried to fix this several times by introducing “anti-scab” legislation, but the Liberals and Conservatives always vote down these initiatives. This year, we’ve used our power to force the government to bring in “anti-scab” legislation and restore workers’ rights.

The pandemic made it clear that our Employment Insurance system needs a serious overhaul. The work environment has changed dramatically in recent decades, and most people don’t have the traditional jobs that are eligible for EI, in fact only 40% of workers in today’s society qualify for EI.

We were hopeful that a badly needed modernization of the EI system would be announced in the budget but were disappointed with total silence on that front.

Another item missing from the recent federal budget was a long-overdue adjustment to the amounts paid to graduate students who work full-time on their research and are paid through federal scholarships. That funding has not changed since 2003, so these students—our best and brightest—are working for as little as $17,500 per year, less than minimum wage, and living below the poverty line. That must change before we lose more of these young scholars to the many countries who properly value their talents.

Workers have kept our communities running throughout some very difficult years, and we need to have their backs. I will continue to demand fair wages that keep up with the rising cost of living, and advocate for policies that ensure economic stability for all Canadians.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

MP talking timber at home and away

Support for mass timber

Last week, I attended the annual conference of the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) in Prince George.

The COFI meeting is always a good forum to hear from a wide spectrum of experts and stakeholders, as well as an opportunity to meet up with some of the many local government officials that come from all over British Columbia.

Small communities dependent on the sector, such as Midway, Houston and Chetwynd, have been hard hit as reduced fibre supply and low timber prices have combined to force the closure of mills, and I had expected an overall mood of gloom considering the challenges and big changes the forest industry is facing. But I was encouraged by strong elements of optimism that came up in discussions around First Nations partnerships, the need for more environmental sustainability, and opportunities for getting more value and jobs out of fewer trees.

One topic that came up repeatedly as a way to increase that value was the increasing use of mass timber in large buildings. This region has led the continent in this technology, first by Structurlam in Penticton and more recently by Kalesnikoff in South Slocan.

Mass timber technology has many benefits. It produces beautiful, safe, long-lasting buildings that sequester carbon in their wood materials. And the construction process is much quicker that traditional building projects—panels and beams are created indoors to exact specifications and then moved to the site for assembly. Speakers at the conference highlighted the fact that new housing is increasingly built in large, multi-unit projects that are ideal for mass timber construction.

I’ve been pressing the federal government for the last seven years to support mass timber efforts through procurement projects, modernized building codes and training for architects and builders.

My private members bill doing just that is now through committee in the House of Commons and will likely pass unanimously to become law before our summer recess.

Added to all the challenges for the forest sector here in Canada are the illegal tariffs charged on lumber exports to the United States. The calculations made by the Americans to set these tariffs have the insidious characteristic of increasing fines when lumber prices are low and decreasing when prices are high.

We’ve been through a phase of high prices and relatively low dumping fines but are now faced with low prices—only a quarter of what they were last year. Those low prices have triggered the closure of several mills across the province, including the Vaagen mill in Midway, and now the remaining operations will likely face higher tariffs when exporting to the United States.

I discussed the softwood lumber dispute in Prince George with industry representatives and with Global Affairs Canada officials, who are negotiating with the American government.

I’ll be travelling to Washington D.C. in May with the House of Commons International Trade Committee and softwood lumber will certainly be on our agenda. We will continue to make the case that the tariffs are illegal and point out that the only Americans that benefit from them are wealthy timber barons—most Americans feel them only through significantly higher prices for building materials and housing.

We must ensure forestry practices are truly sustainable and take into account that forests provide essential services other than growing fibre. They provide us with clean water, clean air and support rich biodiversity that is the basis of the healthy environment we enjoy in Canada.

For too long, we’ve been wastefully clear-cutting, burning huge slash piles at the end of the season. We have to be more selective and leave less waste. Communities and First Nations must be involved in forest planning and receive more of the benefits of the harvest of what is after all an incredibly valuable resource that belongs to all of us.

The forest industry is changing. Change is always uncomfortable, but with honest, respectful dialogue we can create a forest industry that will benefit everyone for centuries to come.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Increasing excise tax tough on Canadian craft distilleries

Tax hike hits distillers hard

I was recently talking to Jorg and Anette Engel of Maple Leaf Spirits, a small craft distillery in Penticton.

Theirs was one of the first craft distillers in the region and has taken advantage of the bountiful fruit of the Okanagan to produce award-winning brandies and other liqueurs.

As their business grew over the past 20 years, they saw other small distilleries establish in the region and that strong growth in the craft distillery sector has been exceeded by the growth in the number of craft breweries and small wineries.

Like many businesses, this sector has been hard hit recently by soaring inflation—the cost of almost everything that goes into their products has been rising. But they also share another inflation-related challenge that no other sector has to deal with—an excise tax that automatically rises as inflation rises.

Since 2017, this tax has gone up every year without any legislation or parliamentary debate and this year will increase by a whopping 6.3 percent, the largest one-year increase in the last 40 years.

Distillers like the Engels are going to struggle to to stay in businesses.

I don’t often dive into the details of tax changes in my column but I hope you’ll bear with me this time as this sector is particularly important in South Okanagan-West Kootenay. These businesses, many of them small, family-owned companies, have combined two traditional pillars of the local economy—agriculture and tourism—to create a powerful new centre of growth for the region.

I want to be clear, all these businesses are fine with paying an excise tax on beer, wine and spirits. But they are concerned about the fairness of how this tax is now structured and calculated. On top of the escalator feature, excise taxes on alcoholic beverages produced in Canada are treated differently depending on whether it’s beer, wine or spirits, and very differently when compared to excise taxes levied by our biggest trading partner, the United States.

Excise taxes are much lower in the United States and are structured so that small producers pay much less on a sliding scale than bigger producers. In Canada, only beer excise tax is scaled by the size of operation, but the average tax is still twice that paid in the United States.

The wine sector is in a special situation because most wineries in Canada never had to pay excise tax until last year when Canada eliminated an exemption for wines made from Canadian grapes after a trade dispute with Australia.

After strong lobbying from the wine industry, the federal government did step up with a support program to help wineries adapt to this new reality, but that support is set to disappear next year. Craft distillers are the hardest hit in many ways. The excise tax on a one-litre bottle is $5.22, and when you add provincial taxes that goes up to about $9.

That makes it very difficult for local producers such as Jorg and Anette Engel to compete with imports from other countries that are taxed at a fraction of that rate.

The House of Commons Finance Committee has recommended the government freeze the excise tax rate at 2022 levels for at least the next two years until inflation comes down to normal levels, and I hope that the government takes that advice in the budget coming next Tuesday.

I also hope that they will listen to Canadian producers of beer, wine and spirits and restructure the excise tax to make it fairer for small producers so that this sector can continue to make fine products and a very important contribution to our local economy.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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