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 (Editor’s note: Fort St. John rescinded the order Wednesday but 1,300 properties in the surrounding area remain under an evacuation order)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.