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B.C. passes new legislation aimed at preparing for and mitigating emergencies

New Democrats, Greens vote in favour of Bill 31, BC United, Conservatives against it
New legislation passed Wednesday promises to improve B.C.’s response before, during and after natural emergencies. (BC Wildfire Service)

Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma said new legislation passed Wednesday (Nov. 1) marks a new approach toward emergency management in response to criticism from the political opposition.

She added that it puts a stronger emphasis on preparing for and mitigating emergencies before they happen, which will make people and their communities safer when events like wildfires occur.

“The devastating impacts of this summer’s severe wildfires, along with more-frequent flooding and B.C.’s ongoing drought, are stark reminders that climate change is affecting our lives faster than anyone expected,” she said, adding that the legislation gives B.C. the most comprehensive ​and forward-looking emergency management framework in Canada.

She made these comments after the legislation passed third reading Wednesday with 42 votes in favour and 22 against. Forty New Democrats and the two BC Greens (Sonia Furstenau, Adam Olsen) supported the legislation. Twenty members of the BC United caucus and the two Conservatives (John Rustad, Bruce Banman) voted against it.

Lorne Doerkson, BC United’s shadow minister for emergency management and climate readiness, said the legislation is incomplete.

“Bill 31 overlooks the emergencies that British Columbians have endured over the past two years, offering little relief or tangible change for those affected,” Doerkson said. “It does not facilitate quicker recovery for those displaced from their homes, leaves the existing gaps in disaster financial assistance and compensation and neglects a much-needed overhaul of the BC Wildfire Service.”

Doerkson said it is time for a new approach. “BC United has proposed a comprehensive plan to overhaul wildfire management and disaster response that includes modernized firefighting services, leveraging local expertise, empowering local response teams and swift support for evacuees,” Doerkson said.

RELATED: B.C.’s new emergency management legislation getting muted support

Ma rejected the opposition’s criticism, adding that the proposal from BC United includes actions government has already been taking.

They include year-round fire service with more people, aircraft and equipment, bringing what she called “skilled and experienced contractors and community members” on board to help fight fires and streamlining support for evacuees among other measures.

Not all work around Bill 31 is complete. Government is still developing regulations around various aspects of the legislation, including post-emergency disaster financial assistance for people recovering from a disaster.

Ma’s ministry acknowledged that the current system has gaps and British Columbians have until Dec. 31 to submit their ideas.

Passage of the legislation and development of the relevant regulation comes after wildfires destroyed almost 2.9 million hectares of forest, according to forests minister Bruce Ralston with the wildfire season not yet entirely over.

That is the largest amount in the history of the province, he said, noting that efforts to assess the full economic damage are still underway.

A task appointed by Premier David Eby this fall is also reviewing the 2023 wildfire season with eye toward developing recommendations in preparation for the 2024 wildfire season, which not only impacted forestry, but also tourism.

Drought also caused significant damage to multiple parts of the province.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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