BC’s current Emergency Program Act descends from the 1914 War Measures Act. It proved painfull inadequate during the wildfires and floods of 2017-18. The provincial government wants to modernize it, but there were mixed reactions to proposed changes at the January 29, 2020, SRD Board Meeting.
Modernizing BC’s Emergency Program Act
Shaun Koopman, the SRD’s Emergency Response Coordinator, explained, “There are 45 proposals that will go into the modernized act. They focus on: increasing the ability of emergency management multi-jurisdictional agreements between local governments and First Nations; increased exercises between local governments, Firsts Nations and critical infrastructure operators; changing the definition of an emergency; adding definitions to preparedness, response, mitigation, recovery.”
This legislation is expected to come into effect next fall and be fully implemented by the Spring of 2021.
The Legislation’s Impact On The SRD
One of the anticipated impacts within the SRD is an increase of taxation, to cover the cost of additional staff time, mitigation and recovery activities.
The province’s authority over local governments in times of emergency would increase, as would a local government’s power over its citizens.
Koopman’s support of these proposals is conditional, “Out of the 45 recommendations in the discussion, the [SRD] staff are recommending that 19 are supported as they are written. 26 are supported subject to clearer definitions as to what is being provided, funding being made available from senior levels of government [and] and sustainable provincial staffing at Emergency Management BC be available to actually oversee their portion of this proposed deal. [Staff is concerned that] “… any mitigation measures not be retroactive, and only be applied to new developments. [They want] “ … clear parameters on their proposed information sharing between local governments, First Nations and and critical infrastructure operators works.”
He added, “One of the bigger positives about this in my opinion, is that it would provide a clear legislative framework and increase stability for local governments, villages, cities, districts, regional districts and First Nations to enter into a multi-jurisdictional management agreement that forms a single local authority for emergency purposes.”
Responses From The SRD Board
Koopman’s report sparked a lively discussion. As this legislation protects ‘significant indigenous cultural sites’, several Directors wanted to know exactly how you determine what is a ‘significant indigenous cultural site’ is, and who decides? Koopman replied, “They haven’t told us.” Director Cornfield suggested identified archaeological sites. Director Anderson wanted to know what the province meant by an emergency, and quipped she seemed to be having one every day. Koopman said one of the phrases that SRD staff objects to is that “an emergency can be anything the Lieutenant Governor deems to be an emergency.” Chair Babchuk summed up the concerns expressed around the table: “the act needs more work.”
Director Leigh said, “Thank-you Shaun, this is a great report you did and I totally agree with admitting it in receipt, but I know that AVICC (Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities) are pushing back hard on the issues you have raised and disagreed with.”
She suggested that, when the time for recommendations comes, Koopman’s report be forwarded to the AVICC.