Emergency act changes raise questions for northern B.C. regional district
November 27, 2023
By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Peace River Regional District directors say changes to the emergency act have left a lot of questions, for both municipalities and the public, and discussed the subject at their Nov. 23 Electoral Area Directors Committee meeting.
On Nov. 8, 2023, the Emergency and Disaster Management Act came into effect, and replaces the Emergency Program Act.
Area D director Leonard Hiebert said he’s been repeatedly asked about the province’s “unlimited ability” to access properties as they see fit when states of emergency are declared, which may upset landowners.
“There has to be an emergency declared, and I guess they want clarification on what exactly classifies as an emergency,” he said. “Does it have to be provincially, locally, and that clarification I think is what I’ve been constantly getting asked.”
PRRD Chair Brad Sperling said he read the legislation as the emergencies having to be provincial to allow property access, but noted that “it’s causing a lot of confusion”.
“Some of those things have actually been in legislation for years, but now they’re putting it in the emergency legislation order,” he said.
Electoral Area E director Dan Rose brought the item to the board for input, noting he expects to speak with Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerksen about it, who might be opposing the legislative changes.
Doerksen is the Official Opposition Caucus Chair and the Shadow Minister for Water, Land and Resource Stewardship and Rural Development.
PRRD CAO Shawn Dahlen noted he spoke at length with Doerksen at UBCM, and noted the MLA had expressed that the Cariboo was challenged by the wildfire season and concerned about the emergency act changes.
“It’s great that there’s going to be a conversation with some of your colleagues and people elsewhere in the province about their concerns and challenges with what is in front of us right now,” said Dahlen to the board.
A lot of the current changes have been embedded in legislation since 1996, noted Dahlen, when the emergency act was updated last, predating the 2023 change.
“The changes that are forthcoming aren’t necessarily far off from what was there previously, but there are some new changes as well, that we need to get up to speed on and be able to resource and implement properly within the regional district,” Dahlen said.
Local states of emergency, while issued by municipalities, are subject to extension approval by the province, explained PRRD protective services manager Sean Cairns, noting the legislation does have compensation provisions for property damages and losses when property access is deemed necessary.
“If we were to come on your property, and BC Wildfire were to mow down your fence because they’re trying to create a guard, then there’s opportunity to recoup the cost of that fence and things like that,” said Cairns.
Director Rose said he’s concerned that the 2024 election may make investing in the changes difficult for the regional district, especially if an opposition party like BC United comes to power and scraps it.
“If they’re going to rip this apart, I don’t know how much time we want to invest in trying to get current with what may be in front of us,” said Rose, noting he has questions over liability with emergencies spreading from Crown land to private.
Tom Summer is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alaska Highway News.
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