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

Opposition voices praise inclusion of First Nations, but question use of regulation
New emergency management legislation tabled by the provincial government to deal with emergencies like the 2023 wildfires is receiving a range of reviews. (CANADIAN PRESS/HO-BC Wildfire Service)

Reactions to new provincial emergency legislation tabled last week in the provincial legislature vary from partially supportive to critical.

Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma Tuesday (Oct. 3) tabled the Emergency and Disaster Management Act, which will replace Emergency Program Act, which has not undergone significant revisions in three decades.

Ma said the new legislation recognizes all phases of emergency management and responds to the realities of climate change by requiring provincial ministries, local authorities, critical infrastructure owners and public sector agencies to complete climate-informed risk assessments among other measures. She said the new legislation expands the definition of emergency, acknowledging new threats such as transmissible diseases. It also recognizes the inherent right of First Nations in the area of emergency management.

BC Greens MLA Adam Olsen welcomed that aspect of the legislation, while pointing out that a lot of legislative review remains to be done given the size of the proposal.

“It is absolutely critical that Indigenous nations have a clear voice,” Olsen said. “It appears that the path that the government is creating here is for Indigenous nations to be part of the decision-making about how emergency management is handled in their territory, ” Olsen said.

He added that he will also keep an eye on how the legislation impacts municipalities.

“The reality is, that we have seen more and more of the provincial responsibility being handed off to local governments and this legislation needs clarity about the relationship that the province has with local governments and local regional governments,” he said. “There needs to be clarity in this legislation.”

These comments echo comments from Union of British Columbia Municipalities President Trish Mandewo.

She said local governments certainly recognize the need for B.C. to modernize its emergency management framework and to improve cooperation between the province, local governments and First Nations work in the management of climate-related emergencies.

“One thing UBCM and our members have consistently pointed out is that as more responsibilities are transferred to local governments, we need long-term, stable funding to go with it,” she added. “I think as communities respond to the legislation, and reflect on their own emergency experiences, it will provide even greater clarity to all governments on the support that will be needed.”

RELATED: B.C. launches task force to deal with climate emergencies

Lorne Doerkson is a BC United MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin, a riding that has experienced some of the worst wildfires in recent memory. He welcomed that government has brought forward new legislation, praising its recognition of First Nations. But he also raised questions about the process and substance.

Doerkson pointed out that the government is seeking public feedback until the end of the year, yet plans to start its phased implementation this year.

“It just seems to me that we’ve got a little bit of the cart before the horse, if you will,” he said in warning against rushing the process and potentially missing out on ideas. “Bill 31 certainly reveals, in my mind, that we haven’t learned from some of the things that we’ve had happen in the past,” he added.

He specifically pointed to problems with disaster financial assistance, expressed concerns with the potential financial impacts of the legislation on municipalities and called on government to better include local volunteers and their resources in responding to emergencies.

“We need to train and equip the local response by trusting and empowering volunteer fire response teams from First Nations, local communities, ranchers, farmers, contractors with essential supplies and resources and, obviously, at the same time, addressing safety, liability insurance certifications and standardizing training for these teams,” Doerkson said.

Ma said that government is currently developing regulation around post-disaster financial assistance and the requirements and authorities of local governments with these regulations coming into place after the legislation has passed.

This aspect has prompted criticism from the opposition with both Olsen and Doerkson questioning the use of regulation.

“(When) we talk about legislation, and we see so much of the bill that just simply says the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may make regulations respecting certain things — volunteers, emergency management, different things — frankly, to me, it feels as though the legislation itself is just not complete,” Doerkson said.

​New Democrat Fin Donnelly, MLA for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and parliamentary secretary for watershed restoration, defended what he called the “phased approach” to implementing the new legislation.

“It allows us to fine-tune our emergency management processes, adapt them to specific needs and ensure that our response to future emergencies is both effective and efficient,” Donnelly said.

“Our goal is to create a resilient and adaptive system that is responsive to the unique challenges and needs of our 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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