The House of Commons will hold an emergency debate on climate change and the devastating floods in British Columbia Wednesday night, amid increased attention to how ill-prepared this country is for the effects of a changing climate.
The request, which Speaker Anthony Rota agreed met the House standard for an emergency debate, was supported by the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens, though there were disparities between what they each want the debate to centre on.
Vancouver Island Green MP Elizabeth May said the focus should be on the overall climate emergency with attention paid to what it has done in B.C. this year including the flooding, and the heat dome and wildfires last summer. B.C. NDP MP Richard Cannings agreed with her.
Conservative B.C. MP Ed Fast, whose Abbotsford riding is among the hardest hit by flooding in southern B.C., said he would like the discussion entirely focused on what is happening in his home province.
Liberal House Leader Mark Holland said the government supported an emergency debate on the devastation in B.C.
The atmospheric river, which dropped 300 mm of rain on parts of southern B.C. in mid-November, led to deadly mudslides and washed out highways that killed four people and temporarily cut off all land links to the Vancouver area from the rest of Canada. Overland flooding also washed out dikes, destroyed water treatment plants and forced thousands of people out of their homes.
“This is arguably the worst natural disaster in the history of our country,” Fast said.
It is not however the only natural disaster affecting Canadians currently. Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency in two counties Tuesday as a rainstorm battered the province’s east coast washing out roads and bridges. In Newfoundland and Labrador the southwestern town of Channel-Port aux Basques was cut off by road entirely when rain washed out parts of the Trans-Canada Highway and the only other secondary road leading in and out of the town.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said earlier this week any emergency debate on B.C. had to include a discussion of the need for Canada to better adapt to these increasingly frequent weather tragedies.
Dale Beugin, a vice-president at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, said thus far most attention is being paid to mitigating the climate emergency by cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the climate emergency from getting even worse. He said the fact is that the climate emergency is already here.
“Adaptation has kind of spent too long as the poor cousin of climate change policy,” he said. “And that is starting to change now but I think we’re seeing that it has to change a lot faster, given the horrible disasters we’re seeing across the country.”
The federal government said in Tuesday’s throne speech that it will ensure the promised national adaptation strategy will be finished by the end of next year, in a bid to tie together federal, provincial and municipal plans, and the widespread impacts climate change is having.
Multiple reports in recent years have identified what is most vulnerable in Canada to climate change, pointing usually to infrastructure like roads, bridges and power grids, the north, fisheries and the health and well-being of individuals.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Insurance Bureau of Canada ran an analysis in 2019 on what it would cost to handle the adaptation needs in Canada’s cities and towns, and concluded at least $5.3 billion is needed from various governments every year.
It’s not clear how much is being spent now, though Cannings estimates it’s less than one-fifth of that.
A national disaster mitigation and adaptation fund has about $3.4 billion for helping provinces pay for adaptation projects over the next 10-12 years. There are other funds promised for improving wildfire fighting capacity and producing better flood maps.
Joanne Vanderheyden, president of the FCM and mayor of the Ontario municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc, said during the election the FCM asked all parties to commit to another $2 billion to the disaster mitigation fund over the next three years, and at least $1 billion annually after that.
“That’s the number we believe, can be a start and then, you know, add on to that every year,” she said.
No parties agreed to that specific ask, she said, but with the devastating images on both coasts, it has never been more clear it’s needed.
“We can do this,” she said. “We need to get moving, it’s critical, we need to do it now.”
—Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press