Princeton welcomed its first visitor from the federal government nearly a year and a half after the devastating floods tore through homes and town infrastructure.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair met with Mayor Spencer Coyne in town on Wednesday, touring through the impacted neighbourhoods and speaking on the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement.
“We've recognized the challenges that Princeton is facing, and some of the very significant investments that are going to have to be made to restore the infrastructure of this community. It's important that they be done right,” Blair said.
“I really felt it was important to come up have an opportunity to meet with Mayor Coyne and his team, look at some of the damages they faced, and I need to have a better understanding of how we can help them and what we need to do.”
Coyne has previously been vocal about the lack of help from the federal government, despite the pleas from local MPs.
With the federal government previously promising $5 billion to B.C. for flood relief, the town has been trying to secure a commitment to pay for its portion in Disaster Financial Assistance.
‘I'm happy the minister came to town today. And it's the first time we've had anybody from the federal government in town. And that's a positive step. And I look forward to future conversations and building a stronger relationship,” he said. “It could have happened sooner. I'll say that.”
Finally meeting with the minister in person, Coyne felt plans are heading in the right direction.
“I believe the minister understands fully what we've gone through, this isn't the first time I've had a conversation with him,” he added.
“Now we just need everybody to help continue to fund our projects. And whether it's the province or the federal government, we need funding to come sooner than later. And I'm hoping if nothing else, that the lessons we learned from the atmospheric river are that we need to make a way so that funding gets to the communities that they need, that need it sooner and faster.”
There's no current estimation on when Princeton could see the funding doled out to them.
"I always hope that somebody's gonna come with a big fat cheque. But that will come with time and hopefully, everything will be funded, and we'll be back on our feet sooner than later," Coyne added.
Blair said he would be meeting with the province tomorrow and bringing in the next big payment of the Disaster Financial Assistance arrangement money that was promised.
“We committed close to $5 billion for that recovery. But that's not the full cost of the recovery. People have incurred significant expenses themselves, they've gone through their insurance, the province themselves have had to put in a lot of resources. And so one of my jobs is to make sure that as we invest public dollars back into that rebuild, we do it smartly,” he said.
The province will assess and determine what will be covered according to the eligibility criteria that is provided to them by the federal government, then make payments and submit the bills back to the federal government.
“We pay about 90 per cent of those monies under the Disaster Financial System arrangement. Those processes normally take sometimes two or three years. But we've been working really closely with British Columbia to expedite those processes and to get the money out here faster,” Blair said.
While walking through one of the hardest-hit areas in town, Blair was introduced to a Princeton resident who is still struggling to receive any funds from Disaster Financial Assistance.
Blair later acknowledged when asked by media that there are problems with the program.
“I actually set up an expert panel with about eight people from across Canada to do a review of the Disaster Financial Systems arrangement,” he said. “The criteria I think does need to be reviewed. But one of them just as an example, one of the things that we're also working on, is the vast majority of people in this country don't have flood insurance, they can't get it.”
As climate-related events are increasing in severity and frequency across Canada, Blair said it’s increasingly important to work with communities to make sure that rebuilds are done stronger and more resilient.
“There are a number of communities here in British Columbia, and right across Canada, where we know that the critical infrastructure that currently exists is not up to the task. And so it is going to require that we begin to make smart investments. There are some things that clearly have to be prioritized,” he added.
One area of clear priority for Princeton is getting their water system up and running, with a vast majority of the town still on a boil water notice.
Hold-ups from Interior Health Authority in regard to licensing and permitting are stopping work from being done, according to Coyne.
“I'm pissed, to be honest. It's a year and a half, almost since this happened. And we are no closer now than we were the day after the flood to get our water up and running, as far as I'm concerned ... This is not a third-world nation. And the fact that communities like ours and across this country are facing these issues is just BS as far as I'm concerned," Coyne said.
There remains a long road ahead for repairs on the hard-hit communities and Blair outlined that funding will need to come from multiple resources.
“There's a lot of other work left to be done. And we'll be around till it gets done, that's our responsibility is to work with the province and work with local communities, and work through this. Everybody has a responsibility here and a duty, but it's only by doing it together that we get this thing done.”