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IN THE LEDGE – Gov’t fails at sharing critical information during disasters

(Image: Drive BC)

Debate in the B.C. Legislature on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 between Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

T. Stone: The members of the official opposition are not questioning the incredible work of first responders, local government officials, EMBC, the ministry of transportation and others. We’re not questioning their leadership. With all due respect to this minister, we’re questioning the leadership — the lack of leadership — on the part of this minister and the part of this government in keeping British Columbians safe in the face of a disaster.

Now, whether we’re talking about hospitalizations or talking about road hazards, this government is failing when it comes to sharing critical information with British Columbians during an impending emergency. Yesterday we saw the Premier shrug and say that it gets wet in November, as if no one could see this disaster coming. Except they did see it, with all due respect to the minister. They did see it in Alberta, and they saw it in Washington state.

Washington state declared a severe weather state of emergency on Monday. British Columbia took an additional two days to declare a state of emergency in our province. This meant that folks only a couple of kilometres south of the U.S. border, south of Abbotsford, had 48 hours more warning than the people of British Columbia did.

That’s unacceptable. That’s why shelves are empty in stores across this province. This is why there are long lineups in gas stations.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, order, please.

T. Stone: British Columbians are scared, they’re worried, they’re nervous, and it all dovetails back to this government’s failure to provide adequate advance notice.

So the question to the minister is this. Can the minister explain why he refuses to use all of the tools that he has in his toolbox, like the Alert Ready warning system, so that British Columbians are given the advanced warning that they need, that they deserve to best prepare themselves and their families and their livelihoods from pending disaster?

Hon. M. Farnworth: I appreciate the question from the member. I’ll tell that member this. Every tool in the toolbox is being used to deal with this situation. We are working closely with the Retail Council, the trucking sector, transportation, in order to ensure that the goods and services that people require are there for them.

The situation around food, for example. The suppliers tell us there is lots of supply. They are rejigging their transportation routes to ensure that those areas that are impacted are able to get the supplies they need.

As the member well knows, in many parts of this province, the transportation routes are not affected. From Kamloops, for example, where that member represents, the rail line operates all the way to the east. At the city of Prince George, where the Leader of the Opposition represents, the transportation corridors are open all the way to points east, and trucking and transportation are getting and doing everything they can to get the goods there.

The most important thing that all of us can do, including the opposition, is to let their constituents know that hoarding is not helpful; that the best thing to do is to be patient and to recognize, as the private sector is making clear, that those supply chains and those supplies are there. That’s what’s taking place. This government is doing everything it can and will continue to do everything we can to….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Thank you.

Interjections.

Hon. M. Farnworth: And your response just demonstrates why you guys are still sitting over there.

Mr. Speaker: Member for Kamloops–South Thompson, supplemental.

T. Stone:Well, if this minister actually left this building and actually went up to the Interior, if he actually did an aerial tour, if the Minister of Transportation wasn’t sitting and doing House duty through this week here and in the little House, maybe he would see exactly what’s happening out there. They would see the long lines at gas stations. They would see the fact that grocery store shelves are empty all over British Columbia. For this minister to sit here and say that it has anything to do other than his lack of leadership and his government’s failure is…. I say shame on all of them. Shame on all of them.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

T. Stone:B.C.’s emergency warning systems are not meeting the challenges of today’s natural disasters. That’s on this government. All other provinces are using the Alert Ready system. They’re using it for tornadoes. They’re using it for wildfires. They’re using it for a range of other natural disasters. We’re not using it here.

Did the government use the alert system for the 2008 devastating wildfires? No, they didn’t. Did they use the alert system for the heat dome this summer that killed nearly 600 British Columbians? No, they didn’t. Did they use the alert system for the wildfires this summer? No, they didn’t. Did they use the alert system for these floods? No, they didn’t — the only province in the country not to use this advance warning system.

Let’s talk about the Coquihalla Highway for a moment. This past Sunday the member for Kamloops–North Thompson and I, as we often do, were heading to Victoria. We drove down the Coquihalla. We missed the slides on the Coquihalla by just a couple hours.

I can tell you that the variable speed signs hadn’t been changed. The speed was still 120 kilometres per hour, and all that was on the overhead message boards was a notice to watch for pooling water on the road, which is a very common message that we see on those signs very often. There were no crews that we drove past, contrary to what the minister just said in a previous answer.

Surely the minister doesn’t expect British Columbians to rely on Drive B.C.’s Twitter page. Surely he doesn’t expect them to rely on Facebook posts while they’re at the wheel, while they’re driving.

Here’s the thing. The province is the only jurisdiction that can send a mandatory warning via tailored text messages to everyone that overrides their cell phones — not local governments. Only the provincial government can do this.

My question to the minister, again, is this: when will the government actually use the warning systems that it has at its disposal that other jurisdictions are using to better prevent extreme weather disasters from putting the safety of British Columbians at grave risk?

Hon. M. Farnworth: The province is going to be using and does use all of the tools at its disposal. But the member…. He raises the Alert Ready system, and that is an important potential tool. It is one that we have the ability to use in certain circumstances right now, just as in 2016, when they had an opportunity. And did you? No, you did not.

Mr. Speaker: Through the Chair.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Hon. M. Farnworth: And what I’ve also said in this House is that we will have in place the Alert Ready system, and we’ve committed to doing that for next spring. We also have the ability, and as we work with local communities to ensure that…. If it’s needed in a particular area, as in Abbotsford the other night, we worked with them and had a text ready to hit send and to send it out.

But what that member consistently, consistently forgets in his question…. The impression he wants to give is that somehow this is a magic solution. It’s not. It requires cell phone towers, which in many cases, as he knows….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, order. Order.

Minister.

Hon. M. Farnworth: And working with local communities who also have their alert systems that they use to make sure, one, that there’s no duplication and, second, that they’re used in a way that also doesn’t cause panic by working with first responders and the emergency coordinations on the ground on the appropriate time to do it.

So hon. Member, we will be using next spring, next summer, the Alert Ready system, starting in the central Interior. But we’re going to make sure that it’s done right.

Source: BC Hansard.

About Mel Rothenburger (8573 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on IN THE LEDGE – Gov’t fails at sharing critical information during disasters

  1. Jennie Stadnichuk // November 19, 2021 at 2:01 PM // Reply

    Leaving advance warning aside, I want to inform Tod Stone and Peter Milobar that hoarding in Kamloops and area shops is a result of greed by some humans. Kamloops was not flooded by the torrential downpour of Monday the 15th. Not all of us rushed out (Again) and loaded grocery carts with food they could not eat for many months. Such Greed was evident at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in 2020. Such greed deprives their neighbours, restaurants etc. of necessary perishable produce etc. And Kamloops with a supply route from the East has no worries about starving to death. I can only hope these Greedy people can take much of their excess food to the Food Bank which is always in need of help! Perhaps these two local MLA’s can provide some leadership by encouraging Greed to fill actual Need?

  2. Similarly with the vaccine, despite all the government has done a number of people still think they know better. If a greater warning was given ahead of the storm, how exactly would’ve the affected people reacted? There is no possible preparation when people get caught in the eye of the storm.

    • I did not articulate my thoughts very well in the last sentence of my original comment. What I meant to say is the events unfolding here last week were unlike hurricane warnings which are predictably wicked, powerful and very destructive. The weather events of last week took everyone by surprise and even a last minute red alert would’ve probably been faced with a relative high scorn.

  3. Ian MacKenzie // November 19, 2021 at 11:05 AM // Reply

    Although I’m not a Liberal I have the same questions for this NDP government as Mr. Stone has. This government is guilty of the results of this disaster, yes, even responsible for the deaths involved. Derelict in their duties. I’ve never heard a weaker response to an important question than Farnsworth gave. Although I WAS a supporter of the NDP, their inability to anticipate, even with so much warning, the results of their climate warming incompetence as well as the continuation of the supports to the oil and gas industry they insist upon fills me with despair during these days of overlapping crises. They are merely fuel to nature’s fire and floods.

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