'Failure is not an option': Rural MP calls for feds to support flooded communities

'Failure is not an option'

Dan Albas, MP for the swamped communities of Merritt and Princeton, was front and centre during an emergency debate on B.C.’s flooding Wednesday night in the House of Commons.

Albas spoke at length about the tremendous challenges facing his riding of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, calling for the federal government to support the small communities that are completely unable to respond to natural disasters on their own.

With winter arriving and neighbourhoods destroyed, he relayed calls from the mayors of Merritt and Princeton, who have requested help from senior levels of government for rapid housing.

“Some people will never return to Merritt because there is nothing for them to return to,” Albas said

Flood-damaged communities throughout B.C. need to do more than rebuild, he said, they need to reinforce.

“Let there be no doubt: Our climate is changing,” Albas said, pointing to historic floods on Okanagan Lake in recent years and record-breaking wildfires.

“What can we do? I do not profess to have all the answers. The need to consult in partnership with local, provincial and first nations communities is paramount,” he continued.

Albas ran through a long-list of examples of how the federal government’s bureaucracy is unable to help rural communities.

Keremeos has been asking for dike reinforcement for years, Oliver was unable to secure federal help rebuilding its irrigation canal, high-speed internet still has not reached many areas and irrigation districts are not eligible for grant funding.

“Let us just think about that. This is a serious problem. These small communities need funds to protect their water system from the threats of our changing climate, yet by design they are excluded from senior government grant funds, despite the fact that the users of these systems all pay taxes to provincial and federal governments. This situation has gone on for years, but I submit that we can no longer continue to ignore it,” Albas said.

“No matter how we try to cut all these observations I have shared, Ottawa is part of the problem and not the solution. That needs to change. I do not really want to point fingers or blame. If anything, that is part of the problem itself. We continually debate what is ultimately an 'Ottawa knows best' policy that continues to adversely impact small rural communities. As our climate changes, we must ensure that Ottawa provides resources that meet the demands of these small rural communities just as much as it does for our bigger centres.”

Albas received support from Richard Cannings, the NDP MP for the adjacent riding of South Okanagan—West Kootenay, which contains the frequently flooded community of Grand Forks.

Cannings echoed Albas statements and called for the federal and provincial governments to step up and help local communities with infrastructure.

“The Coquihalla Highway is only 35 years old and was basically destroyed in one rainfall event,” Cannings said.

“We have heard of ‘build back better,’ but when it comes to this infrastructure, we have to build back stronger with bigger culverts, higher bridges and better designed dikes. We need to look for nature-based solutions, planning for future flood events by allowing rivers to spill their banks in places where damage will be minimal, ensuring that mountain forests above communities and critical infrastructure are healthy enough to intercept rain and hold moisture in their soils,” Cannings continued.

Albas asked for Ottawa to cut the red tape and let the aid flow to B.C.

“That is a challenge we need to be up for. Failure is not an option. For every citizen facing a loss and tough times in British Columbia right now, let this be our moment to stand with them and be there to support them,” he said.

“We can talk all we want, but there are people who are really suffering. At the end of the day, during a public disaster that is what government is supposed to do. It is supposed to act.”

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