Excerpts from a Question Period exchange today (Oct. 5, 2021) in the B.C. Legislature between Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
T. Stone:People not understanding the severity of the heatwave that descended upon our province and that descended upon them — that led to dire consequences, tragic consequences. People not knowing what to do when this was occurring led to tragic consequences.
Sadly, however, in 2019, the Premier commissioned and received a climate risk assessment for British Columbia. On page 69 and 70, it details the significant risk that a heatwave poses, referencing a high confidence of excessive mortalities.
But the Premier ignored these warnings. On June 27, it felt like 44 degrees Celsius in Chilliwack. Seventy-four-year-old Roberta “Bunny” Lalonde, who lived alone in her condo, turned on fans and opened her windows. But like many British Columbians, she probably didn’t know that this would do more harm than good, because fans can actually cause someone’s temperature to rise when the air is hotter than their body.
As Bunny’s daughter Christine Lalonde subsequently told the media: “My mom was a bit stubborn. She probably thought it would be fine. I don’t know if she really knew the effects that heat like that can have on the body.”
On the afternoon of June 29, Christine, who lives in Ontario, received a call from her uncle whom she had asked to check on Bunny. The uncle had let himself in, where he found Bunny lifeless on her bed.
I think British Columbians rightfully want the Premier to answer this question. Can the Premier explain, can the government explain, why they failed to heed the warnings contained within a report that they commissioned in 2019, which would have ensured vulnerable British Columbians had a fighting chance to survive the heat wave. Can the Premier explain why, instead of heeding the warnings in this report, he responded to the tragedy by saying: “Fatalities are a part of life.”
Hon. A. Dix: I would say to the member that the story that he told is one, obviously, that affected people in my constituency, people I know, and affected the whole province. This is, as Dr. Henderson said, a one in 1,000 year event, but an event that we now have to respond to. It is the new reality of our times and we have to respond. We have already taken action to do that.
That response will be broader than the Ministry of Health. We have responded with more changes in our ongoing efforts to improve and improve resources of the ambulance service everywhere in the province. We have responded with changes in long-term care to bring in, in facilities, particularly facilities that hadn’t had air conditioning, to add air conditioning and air conditioning capacity in those facilities.
The primary place where mortality happened, where more people passed away, was alone at home. Steps have to be taken. I will take the member through the steps that were taken by Dr. Henry, by health authorities, by others, by the Solicitor General to warn people of the situation in the heat dome.
But I think it is fair to say living, as I do, in an apartment — an un-air conditioned apartment — in East Vancouver, that none of us had felt the actual effects of what happened that weekend ever before living in British Columbia; living in Metro Vancouver. Simply put, we have to respond by becoming more resilient as a society. I intend to work with everyone to see that that happens.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Kamloops–South Thompson on a supplemental.
T. Stone:Well, the fact of the matter is this: the Premier and the government ignored their own reports, which they had commissioned several years in advance of this tragic situation. As a result, thousands of British Columbians were not truly and fully aware of just how serious the risk was. As a result, emergency systems were overwhelmed. As a result, first responders were swamped and they were overcome. They were overcome with tragedy.
The government’s actions, simply put, were too little too late for almost 600 families who lost their loved ones; were too late for vulnerable British Columbians like Bunny Lalonde. This fall, Bunny…. She was going to go and visit her daughter in Ontario for the first time in 12 years. Instead, like so many others, she died from the heat alone in her condo.
This is how Christine remembers the phone call from her uncle: “He said, ‘She’s dead, Christine. She’s dead.’ It was devastating.” On June 29, the same day as that fateful phone call, the Premier called such fatalities a part of life.
We’re talking about vulnerable British Columbians. We’re talking about British Columbians who deserved so much better than this. Will the Premier admit today that he was wrong to say that vulnerable British Columbians like Bunny had a level of personal responsibility?
Will the Premier admit today that his ignoring his own advice, the advice in his climate assessment report, in fact had deadly consequences for hundreds of vulnerable British Columbians?
Hon. A. Dix: The government, as the member will know, is pursuing an exceptional leading climate action plan, led by the Minister of the Environment. The government has been addressing issues of inequality, because this is fundamentally a question of inequality, by increasing income assistance rates, increasing disability rates, supporting vulnerable people in community.
The government raised the level — 85 percent of care homes were below the provincial standard in terms of long-term care staffing. We raised those levels. That helps us prepare, and there’s more needed to be done. There is more that’s going to be done.
Because this was an exceptional event that even with the extraordinary actions to address climate change, to address inequality and the largest increase in the history of the B.C. Ambulance Service, which went from $424 million when I became Minister of Health to $559 million in advance of that…. Now we’ve seen since then significant action taken.
All of these actions make us more resilient, but we need to do more. That is evident. This is a period of climate change that is going to affect us now, next year, the year after. We need to take action on climate change, and we need to take action to ensure that British Columbia becomes more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Source: BC Hansard.