British Columbia government proposes new legal framework for disaster emergency

Published: October 31, 2019

Updated: November 4, 2019

Author: Luke Jones

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British Columbia faced record wildfire seasons during 2017 and 2018. While 2019 was relatively quiet in terms of damage caused, blazes burned a larger area than ever before. The province faces numerous challenges in preventing and responding to wildfires. With floods an ever-increasing problem too, B.C. is facing major issues in managing climate risks.

In response, the provincial government has detailed plans to overhaul its emergency management laws. A proposal to change the Emergency Program Act has been tabled in an effort to better manage catastrophic weather events.

In a briefing this week, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth argued the Act needs to be modernized to reflect more frequent and severe climate events. He says any new framework would need to include lessons learned from recent floods and wildfires.

British Columbia debuted the Emergency Program Act back in 1993 and it serves as the province’s leading legal framework on disaster risk management. It details roles and responsibilities for local governments around B.C. and how they should respond to, recover from, and prepare for emergencies.

With the new proposal, Farnworth said the government wants to focus on mitigation and risk reduction instead of disaster response.

“We need to lead the province in a direction that addresses current challenges and prepares us for the future,” he said during a news conference. “We need an emergency management system that does more than react to events. We need a system that builds on all four pillars of our work: preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.’

“If our emergency management structure is going to be ready to respond to the changing realities of climate, this province and our populace, the legislation that drives that system, must change,” said Farnworth.