Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau

Column: All MLAs should have input into updating Emergency Act

We are concerned about our individual and collective preparedness.

By Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen

It has been a challenging year in British Columbia.

The persistent COVID-19 pandemic and opioid crisis have required an unparalleled public health response.

The heat dome, wildfires, and flooding are powerful examples of the demand climate change will put on our provincial and community infrastructure and public safety response.

The confluence of these social and climate crises has taken the lives of loved ones and pushed our public systems and infrastructure to the brink of collapse.

We are grateful for the courageous work of all the first responders, emergency management staff, local government leaders and staff and community volunteers this year.

We are concerned about our individual and collective preparedness. We have asked several questions of the government about our emergency response, vulnerabilities of transportation infrastructure, and contingencies for food security.

The provincial government is reviewing and updating the Emergency Program Act. The BC NDP need not tackle this alone. The remedy is going to be a massive undertaking and we are encouraging the government to remove the partisan divisions and invite all Members of the Legislature to work together, just like we did at the beginning of the pandemic.

This year we have experienced what climate scientists have predicted for years. As climate change related weather and health emergencies increase and worsen, the response must be led by our provincial government. We have access to the resources needed to ensure it is informed and coordinated.

This year we have been tested and we know our systems are not robust enough to handle our new reality. They need to be rebuilt from the ground up and it should include all 87 elected provincial representatives.

How is weather modelling and storm tracking information communicated to officials and the public?

How do we increase our individual resilience as well as our public infrastructure like highways, bridges, and dikes? How do individuals and communities care for and look after the vulnerable people in our neighbourhoods? What communications resources are available? When are they used? Who decides this and what criteria and protocols are in place to minimize confusion.

In an emergency, British Columbians should trust that the government will employ all useful communications tools — text alerts, TV and radio stations, social media — and have a clear understanding of how they will be deployed to inform them of what is coming, how they can prepare in advance, and what they should do if they must evacuate.

Building resilience requires proactive and coordinated governance. It will serve no one if the provincial government remains insular and secretive. We can preserve the significant role of opposition parties to hold government ministers accountable, while also creating collaborative tables where we set aside our partisan differences.

The coming challenges are unlike anything we have experienced. Let us work together to understand the threats and weaknesses of our public systems, so we can ensure British Columbians have the best tools to prepare in advance of an emergency, confidently respond during an emergency, and minimize the impact after an emergency.

The climate crisis is going to require a fundamental change in how we govern. The lives of millions of British Columbians rely on our governments to work together to understand and embrace the challenge of our new reality. We are here and ready to participate in this critical work.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for Cowichan Valley and leader of the B.C. Green Party. Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.

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