British Columbia has asked Ottawa for $4-billion in disaster relief in a preliminary submission based on the extensive costs related to flooding and debris slides during last November’s rain storms.
Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness, said Monday the financial request is far from final – and the final tally is expected to rise. He noted there is extensive work still ahead to determine what repairs are needed and how the province’s flood protection systems should be improved to better withstand extreme weather events.
However, he said the urgency of getting cash to flow was made plain during a meeting with provincial officials, First Nations leaders and mayors.
“I want to be very clear this is a preliminary ask from the province of British Columbia,” Mr. Blair told a news conference. “We see the urgency of moving money out into communities to facilitate that recovery. We’ve heard it clearly from First Nations, we’ve heard it very clearly from the mayors and regional councils right across the province [that] the costs exceed what they are able to bear and they seek our support.”
Ottawa has already tentatively approved a $5-billion disaster relief package – which would be the largest payment under the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, or DFAA, program. But the province has to show where the money is going, and Ottawa has to validate the province’s claims – a process that normally takes many months. B.C. has asked for some advance payments because of the scale of the disaster.
The extreme weather in November damaged railways, hydro lines, pipelines, dikes, bridges and key highways, displaced thousands of residents and put 1,100 farms underwater. There was a point in mid-November when not a single rail or road route was open between Vancouver and the B.C. Interior – isolating Canada’s biggest port for more than a week, and interrupting national supply chains.
The DFAA program is designed to assist provinces with the costs of dealing with a disaster where those costs would otherwise place a significant burden on the provincial economy. Ottawa’s share in similar circumstances – such as the 2013 Calgary floods – is typically less than half of the total price tag, making the November storms in B.C. likely to be Canada’s most costly natural disaster to date.
Mr. Blair said the $4-billion request from B.C. may deal with immediate needs, but he also expects additional funding requests to address the requirement to make sure flood protections are upgraded with climate change in mind. “Additional monies [can] be requested in the rebuilding of critical infrastructure to make it more resilient and to mitigate it to prevent future disasters. And that work is continuing on. Quite frankly, we have not finished in determining the exact costs of these events.”
Following the November floods in B.C., Mr. Blair indicated that the DFAA program will need to be revisited, as costs rise because of the growing risk of extreme weather catastrophes.
Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, told reporters following Monday’s meeting with Mr. Blair that his government is also looking at changes to the provincial disaster funding program.
B.C. spent more than $500-million in the immediate aftermath of the November storms, just to get its highways patched up. The most expensive permanent repairs of highways, dikes and other infrastructure are still ahead. And, he said, it is now clear that the system needs to be overhauled so that decisions can be made faster, and money can be distributed more efficiently.
Mayors in the most flood-damaged communities have warned that they cannot afford to pay their share of the repairs under the provincial formula for disaster relief, which requires local government to fund 20 per cent of the repairs. Abbotsford City Council is looking at a range of repair options that could cost as much as $2.8-billion to fix and improve flood protection on the Sumas Prairie.
“It is about ensuring we’ve got a system that allows us not only to prioritize properly,” Mr. Farnworth said, “but also to recognize that different parts of the province will have different needs and different requirements in the kinds of emergency and the kinds of responses and the kinds of challenges that they will face.”
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