B.C. gets first minister focused on emergency management, climate readiness

For the first time, British Columbia has a minister responsible for climate-related emergencies, with Bowinn Ma named minister of emergency management and climate readiness on Wednesday during Premier David Eby’s cabinet announcement.

In Eby’s official mandate letter to Ma, he says B.C. “has been disproportionately impacted by climate change disasters.

“We need to continue to learn the lessons of past emergencies, build our capacity to be resilient in the face of recent emergencies, and prepare in a way that mitigates the risk of future emergencies,” the letter reads.

Ma, a licensed professional engineer and certified project management professional, has been the MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale since 2017.

“People across the province are experiencing the escalating impacts of climate change emergencies, and they are counting on us as their provincial government to keep them and their families safe,” Ma told Gloria Macarenko on CBC’s On The Coast Thursday.

“A standalone ministry dedicated to emergency and climate response demonstrates our government’s commitment to be prepared for, and mitigate the impacts of disaster.”

A road is surrounded by floodwaters in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford, B.C. in November 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The province has recently experienced several climate catastrophes, including a deadly heat dome, wildfires, and devastating flooding.

A report from the B.C. Coroner’s Service released earlier this year said 619 people died during the heat dome in June 2021. Over 1,600 wildfires were reported province-wide that same year, and a wildfire in Lytton, B.C., killed two people.

A little over one year after the Sumas Prairie floods of November 2021 — which led to the evacuation of an entire city, and prompted restrictions on travel and fuel purchases after critical infrastructure was damaged for weeks, many farmers are still recovering.

Ma says she will bring her experience as former minister of infrastructure to the new position.

“People were cut off from loved ones. Communities were cut off from services and supplies,” she said“Our economy was devastated, not to mention the impact on lives and livelihoods.”

The new ministry’s mandate includes supporting government response in emergency situations, introducing modernized emergency management legislation, and working with Indigenous peoples as partners in emergency management, along with the environment minister.

The new ministry has also been assigned a parliamentary secretary of emergency preparedness to assist in the mandate.

The climate-related disasters cost the province between $10.6 to $17 billion, said Marc Lee, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), on The Early Edition last month.

In November this year, the CCPA released a report calling on both federal and provincial governments to provide more fiscal resources, stating that nearly half of the $513 million provided by the province in this year’s budget has already been spent.

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