B.C. regional district critical of proposed Emergency and Disaster Management Act
October 10, 2023
By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Peace River Regional District in B.C. says they lack the resources and capacity to implement the provincial government’s Emergency and Disaster Management Act, which aims to modernize and replace the Emergency Program Act.
PRRD board directors discussed the proposed legislation at their Oct. 5, 2023 board meeting and agreed that three months isn’t sufficient time to get a solid understanding of the act, nor is it enough time to consult their respective communities and constituents.
Directors voted in favour of sending a letter to Premier David Eby, and Bowinn Ma, the Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, requesting more time to comment on the new act and to ask whether the province would be providing any funding or resources to meet the new demands of the act.
Minister Ma will also be invited to meet with the PRRD board to discuss the legislation at a future committee of the whole meeting.
The letter will also be sent Peace River North MLA Dan Davies, Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier, local First Nations, and all 27 regional districts in B.C., including the Northern Rockies Regional District (NRRM).
Electoral Area B Director Jordan Kealy said the new legislation is too open-ended for the PRRD to reasonably deal with. He also expressed concern for Treaty 8 First Nations, and whether the new legislation infringes on their rights.
“What I’d like to see is more documentation supporting this, and it’s a very broad scope to put on local governments,” said Kealy. “It’s one thing like with the fires, with emergency situations going on, and wanting better communication, but I don’t think you can tell Doig what to in that emergency situation, that’s up to them to do that.”
“This is very broad and it’s such a limited time to discuss it and give feedback. I don’t think this is appropriate at all for the scope that it covers and the powers that it can designate as well,” he added.
Having sat on a provincial flood and wildfire committee for three years, Electoral Area C Director Brad Sperling feels the new legislation is ‘cart before the horse’ and noted that a similar idea was refused in the past.
“What you’re looking at is what the four rural people on that were on that committee argued and fought for two years to get this sent out to all the regional district and member municipalities, and constantly refused,” he said. “Now here it is, and they’re giving us three months to comment.”
“Who’s even studied this? Looked at it? Seen it? They’re asking for comments from the board, when our member municipalities and area directors haven’t even looked at this or studied, had time to look at it, and study it,” Sperling added.
It’s unclear where local resources, including emergency support services (ESS) teams and fire departments fit in with the new legislation, noted Sperling, in addition to the pressure of liaising with local First Nations in time.
“We’re supposed to be talking and forming partnerships with the First Nations. How do you do that in three months? It’s impossible. Where’s the resources?” continued Sperling. “There’s absolutely no money in this legislation for any of this to be done.”
The new legislation also terms the PRRD as a ‘local authority’ instead of a local government, noted Sperling.
Electoral Area E director Dan Rose said the PRRD already struggles to meet the demands of the current legislation, and is concerned about government overreach.
“We struggled to operate under the present form. There’s a lot of gaps and problems with the way things are done right now,” said Rose. “And to add more of this on, and we’re not an authority at anything – we’re just going to be that pinata, getting whacked from every different direction, we won’t see it coming.”
Rose added that the PRRD would be better served by connecting with other regional districts to see what their concerns are, and collectively pushing back against the new legislation.
“We don’t have the capacity to do what we’re asked to do now, let alone what this adds on to,” said Rose. “And it’s a bunch of bureaucracy, mainly, and it really leaves the locals out of it. It’s going to be another one of these sets of rules, and we’re going to be stuck in the middle, writing orders and sending out search and rescue, telling people what to do – it’s not going to go well.”
Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darryl Krakowka agreed that the proposed legislation is too broad, affecting both the member municipalities of the PRRD, and local First Nations, interfering with both groups’ autonomy.
“This seems like again, government jamming it down. And here it is, give you three months to comment, when there’s not enough time,” said Krakowka. “They receive no comments, because in three months, how do you comment on it, without having all the dialogue, or financial, or staffing?”
“That’s what they’re looking for, jam it down and hopefully no more response,” he added.
Pouce Coupe councillor Marcel Woodill said the proposed legislation doesn’t account for the fact that the majority of emergency services are staffed by volunteers in the Peace Region, with the exception of two municipalities having paid fire fighters. Nor does he feel it’s fair to ask more from volunteers without funding or resources being provided.
“The rest of us all rely on volunteers. Our ESS is volunteers, our search and rescue is volunteers, right? So, all of these things, we’re putting this back on volunteers, there isn’t paid people to do this,” said Woodill.
Sperling added that the PRRD is capable of doing their own research on emergency services capabilities, and could start that process ahead of the next fire season, independent of the proposed legislation.
“I think we have the ability to start talking to our member municipalities, our ESS teams, see what kind of training we can get our communities,” he said. “They’re talking about creating community fire brigades type thing to attack.”
“I think that we can move forward with, you know, because to me that’s just due diligence, while we try and deal with the unknown of this legislation,” added Sperling.
Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen noted that local municipalities do have basic emergency plans and procedures, with Fort St. John’s emergency operation centre (EOC) able to deal with fire, floods, and slides.
“So, for clarification, what are they asking that’s above and beyond what we already have?” asked Hansen.
PRRD CAO Shawn Dahlen agreed that all local municipalities do have basic emergency plans and resources in place, but noted the new legislation would require individualized plans for the electoral areas for each emergency type: fire, flood, or earthquake, instead of a blanket plan.
Those plans would have to be created in consultation with member municipalities and local First Nations, and approved by the provincial government and First Nations, he further noted.
“So, what we feel would be a significantly onerous process in order to be able to actually solidify plans,” said Dahlen.
“When we are this large and this vast as a regional district, looks like years and years’ worth of work to us, at a glance,” he added.
Members of the public attended the Oct. 5 board meeting specifically to voice their opposition to the new legislation, taking issue with the fact that it’s based in part of the Sendai Framework, a disaster management strategy created by the UN in 2015.
“The UN has been declared a terrorist organization in many countries,” said resident Karol Cube, requesting a town hall on the new legislation. “So, why are we wanting to follow something they’re suggesting?”
“It seems that our sovereignty as a nation is being stripped away from us, rather rapidly,” said resident Gina Goad. “Our decisions to make or rights to make decisions for ourselves, knowing us as Canadians as an integrated society, I think we are the ones that are best qualified to determine what’s good for us.”
Goad went on to explain that she’s concerned with the reintroduction of masks this fall in healthcare settings as part of COVID-19 prevention measures, noting she believes they are ineffective and don’t work.
“I don’t want to go back to a lock down with other people that don’t know us, in charge, telling us what’s good for us, what’s not,” Goad said. “We know what’s good for us. We’re smart enough to know and we got to get it this time, we gotta to get it right this time.”
Tom Summer is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alaska Highway News.
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