Last summer during the peak of the heat dome Lytton, BC registered the highest temperatures ever recorded in Canada, 49.6C (121.3F). Just a day later the entire town burned to the ground.
Lytton residents want to move home and eight months later and the provincial government is still struggling to get the recovery effort under way. This Bill is one step forward to assist the local government.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 2, the Municipalities Enabling and Validating (No. 4) Amendment Act, 2022. I’m just echoing the comments of my colleague from Penticton.
I think that it is important to recognize that it’s been 225 days since we first heard the reports on the radio of a very fast-moving fire. It’s unknown what the ignition point was. Lots and lots of unknowns. Listening to the radio, to the terrified residents of Lytton and the surrounding areas as they were being evacuated — scattering, literally, in all directions…. It’s been 225 days since that fateful day for Lytton, British Columbia.
We now see a bill that comes forward that will help the local government of Lytton deal with some of the tragic results of that fire. I also am a former local government elected official, as are many members that populate the seats of this chamber now. I could not imagine if this incident happened in the community that I was elected to represent. It would be absolutely terrifying.
As a local government official, I am thinking back to how I would respond to that. I don’t know that we come equipped with the skills to be able to address something as devastating as an entire town burning to the ground. I have sympathy for this provincial government in the effort, which is a monumental effort, in rebuilding a town that, in a few moments, ceased to exist in its built form.
But clearly, the citizens of Lytton don’t feel that their town ceased to exist. It’s part of who they are. A lot of pride. I know a lot of people from Lytton and just how disruptive, of course, this is.
I can’t help but think back to the fall session of this Legislature, seeing the emotion and the words of our colleague from Fraser-Nicola and trying to put into perspective how I, as a member of the Legislative Assembly, would represent the citizens of a town that burned to the ground. Very clearly, it was weighing heavy on our colleague, and that should be of no surprise. Frankly, I think that we, as MLAs, deal with much smaller issues than this one.
To hear the member for Fraser-Nicola repeat day in and day out in question period — 90 days, then 100 days, 120 days, and now we’re at 225 days — pleading with this provincial government to take more speedy action than they have taken….
This legislation that we look to today — and will be debating over the next couple of days here in second reading and, as well, at committee stage — begins the process of the administrative aspects of being able to start to rebuild the town. It allows for bylaws that are completely in ashes, frankly. For the community to start to put those back together again, recognizing that…. As my friend from Penticton said, it is prudent to ensure that records in all of our communities are in more than a single place. This is a lesson, I think, to be learned from that.
Municipal permits. The ability to actually start to get a building permit and, once it’s been approved, to start to rebuild your home or your business — this bill is indeed an essential step. But I do have to echo the comments that have been made previously in this debate. I have to ask similar questions as to why a bill of this nature did not come forward in the fall session. We spent six weeks in this House debating legislation. This would have been a welcome bill at that time.
I will be asking the government questions. I’ll be asking the government, through the Minister of Municipal Affairs, what the delay was to this piece of legislation that’s in this bill that’s in front of us now. I think it is also important for us to recognize that while this has happened one time in the recent history of this province, we have to begin preparing for the inevitability of more severe weather events in the future due to climate change.
While we will be in a kind of responsive mode here, 225 days after the event has passed…. Certainly, I can only say that from the position that I’m in. I don’t think the residents of Lytton would suggest that the instance has passed. They’re still living very much in the middle of it. But it is a lesson for this provincial government to learn, that we are going to need to become more proactive in our preparation for severe weather events and for the more severe impacts of those weather events.
While we move to pass Bill 2, the questions, of course, remain. What are we doing in order to ensure that should an incident like this occur again, we are more prepared to act in a more expedient manner?
I think it is also important to note that…. And it must be the frustration that some residents of Lytton would be feeling. Just a few months after the fire in their community took their community, we had significant floods. Many of the residents that were displaced from Lytton were displaced again because of the floods, whether they were in Merritt or elsewhere in the region. I have to, I guess, raise my hands to those people who have been displaced multiple times, and I can only share love with them to hope that they are continuing and are doing well.
We also watched a huge amount of infrastructure — the Coquihalla, Highway 3, Highway 1 — get washed away in the floods. It must have been frustrating for the displaced people from Lytton to watch as every single effort was taken to reconnect. I want to raise my hands to all of the crews that were working on that, to the ministry and to the government for making those connections, once again connecting the Lower Mainland with the rest of Canada.
However, I think that what we’ve seen here are two very different responses — a response that is now 225 days in the making before we see this bill, and the announcement that the Coquihalla had been reopened. So I need to make the connection, because I think it’s important that British Columbians see their government prepared, acting to become more prepared than perhaps we have considered necessary in the past and, as well, that we are consistent in the delivery of our response to communities.
There’s no doubt that the highway infrastructure connecting the Lower Mainland with the rest of Canada — and I would say the rail infrastructure as well — is critically important to our economy. But so is the town of Lytton, and the residents of Lytton need to know that. No matter what we say in this Legislature, no matter what members of the government say in this Legislature, no matter what is said in press conferences about the response, ultimately, the people of Lytton and the rest of the residents, our constituents, in British Columbia will evaluate the government’s work based on the actions.
I think it’s important that we say the words in this House and we say the words in press conferences but that we follow those up with the appropriate level of action so that the people of Lytton can see that we do indeed take the grave situation that they face very seriously.
I will be asking questions in committee stage, as they come up, if my friend from Penticton doesn’t ask them before I get the opportunity to. I look forward to the passage of this bill and to the expedient support and rebuilding of the beautiful town of Lytton. With that, I’ll take my seat.