Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment. You look good in the chair.
I want to express my appreciation to all members in the House and all parties for taking the time and agreeing to have this emergency debate. This afternoon, when we heard different members speaking about the crisis and the flood in British Columbia, I was struck that we gave each other standing ovations. All of us here really do care for the people of British Columbia and the province.
British Columbia is in a really tough spot right now. It is an emergency. I think of communities like Princeton, Merritt, Abbotsford and Chilliwack, which are submerged or partially submerged, and smaller communities like Lytton, which have been stranded.
Many thousands of people have been evacuated. I think of my brother David who lives in Yarrow. The livelihoods of people have been lost. The main transportation links were or are cut off.
Most of us have seen the pictures of devastation in the media, or pictures of the Coquihalla Highway, for example, and other rail and road arteries. I do not know if members or those who are watching have travelled the Coquihalla, but it is a marvel of engineering. To see the overpasses collapse and how the changing rivers have wiped out roads in other places is quite stunning.
My wife told me this morning that she hoped to see our granddaughter Harper in Kelowna around Christmastime, as well as the parents, who we love. I told her I did not know if we would be able to see them, because it depends on the roads. It could take many months before they are restored.
Gas is being rationed in my riding of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge and throughout much of British Columbia.
I think of the entire city of Merritt, which was forced to evacuate. I think of the towns and villages of first nations, many of which are still reeling from the damage caused by the forest fire this summer, forced out at a moment's notice and living in emergency shelters once again. I think of the many people who lost their homes, businesses and livelihoods.
I think of Mirsad and Anita Hadzic, as well as two others, who lost their lives in the mudslide on Duffey Lake Road. Tragically, their two-year old daughter was left behind without parents. Even in these most tragic and sad situations, some rays are shining through. The people of British Columbia have rallied for this now-orphaned child, which is an example of the old adage “It takes a [community] to raise a child.” Money has poured in from everywhere, over $131,000 so far on GoFundMe.
I think it is important to acknowledge some of the more positive stories from the past 10 days. We saw people reaching out to strangers with vulnerable health, offering to run errands for them so they did not have to put themselves at risk.
There were stories that brought out the best in humanity, stories of love, generosity and hope, from a place aptly called Hope, a small town whose businesses and people stepped up in ways that we have not seen since Gander on 9/11. One of my staff, Jay Denney, told me about his friends Mya Warren and Kris Lang. They were on their way from Kelowna to Vancouver and became trapped in Hope, along with many others, when the roads leading out were closed or destroyed. They stayed positive throughout days of living in a car.
The member for Langley—Aldergrove's son, daughter-in-law and five children lived in their vehicle under an underpass for several days until they were able to escape.
Mya and Kris talked about the amazing volunteers at the high school in Hope, who provided blankets when they mentioned how cold it was. They shared stories on social media of how Panago Pizza had a generator and the staff fed people for free until they ran out of supplies.
They were connected with Barb, who took them in until safe passage to Vancouver became available. Many others in Hope welcomed complete strangers. It is a testament to the fact that despite our differences, when things get tough in Canada, our strong community fabric comes through to help one another.
Kudos to the people of Hope and to the people everywhere who have lent a hand or donated to help out. This fabric includes our first responders, the Canadian military, highway and utility crews, search and rescue units and emergency services volunteers. I thank all of them and the people of British Columbia for their resiliency, and for all the generous offers of assistance from all across Canada.
I want to move onto the challenges, current and future.
One challenge is the clarity and timeliness of information. Those same people in Hope, with all their positive stories, also raised valid complaints about accessing information. The information they received was from word of mouth. They wondered, as did I, why they received no information via emergency alerts on their cellphones. It seems pretty simple.
A simple message with the details of which radio station or website people could get information from would have gone a long way to help locate emergency supports. If we can inform people province-wide about a missing person or about a potential tsunami, then certainly we can inform them of how they can get help in a natural disaster. This needs to be discussed further so it does not happen again.
We also have, as others have mentioned, British Columbians who have been issued severe fines for passing through Washington state without getting a COVID PCR test. These people are not on holidays. They are travelling essentially to get goods to survive, and doing what the minister said they could. The minister said that the matter was now clarified. However, what about those fines? The minister said that it was the responsibility of the Public Health Agency. That is not good enough. These people have enough to worry about. They should not be devastated financially. The minister needs to, within his statutory powers, do everything he can with respect to these fines to see them overturned.
The ongoing challenges to infrastructure, transportation, supply chain, food supply, natural resources, human displacement and employment will be significant, and they all could have net-negative economic impacts for months, if not years to come.
Infrastructure concerns me greatly across B.C., but particularly in my riding. We were relatively fortunate in Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, which is only half an hour away from Abbotsford. The Pitt and Alouette River watersheds were not as hard hit, but we did not escape totally unscathed. There was some localized flooding, but it could have been much worse.
The dike system along the Pitt River has held, but there have been calls for years to upgrade this and no money has been committed. We need to do something about this. We could have a much more serious situation in the next freshet.
The government has had six years to make significant improvements and it has not, putting the people in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and the Katzie first nation at severe risk. We need to take action to deal with the issue right now. There is time to discuss climate change and mitigation. This is important. However, right now we need to get the people out of the burning fire to provide safety and to move forward. That is an immediate concern.
It is important to keep the focus on keeping B.C. safe, keeping people informed and building back B.C. as quick as possible. We need to remember the commitments that are made here when this crisis is no longer front-page news.