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Trudeau says B.C. flooding shows climate change impacts have arrived ‘sooner than expected’

Global News logo Global News 2021-11-24 Eric Stober and Sean Boynton
Flood waters surround a farm in Abbotsford, B.C., Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. © THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward Flood waters surround a farm in Abbotsford, B.C., Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the extreme weather seen this year in British Columbia and other parts of Canada shows the impacts of climate change have arrived "sooner than expected, and they are devastating."

Speaking during an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday night, Trudeau thanked the efforts of local, provincial and federal first responders helping B.C. recover from devastating flooding and landslides, while assuring local MPs that more help is on the way.

He also pointed to ongoing or developing storms in B.C. and Atlantic Canada this week as further proof that more investment in climate change mitigation is needed, admitting the federal Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund is "oversubscribed."

The fund was launched in 2018 and committed $2 billion over 10 years to infrastructure projects that would make communities more resilient to the effects of climate change. An additional $1.37 billion was added in the 2021 budget, to be distributed over 12 years.

"We will continue to increase funding as we help communities and continue to help Canadians get through these difficult times," Trudeau said.

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He also assured those in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland that the federal government will support them as those provinces are facing a crisis of their own over a rainstorm that has washed out roads and bridges.

Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency in two counties on Tuesday, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, the southwestern town of Channel-Port aux Basques has been cut off due to flooding.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said flooding across Canada already results in over $1 billion in damages on average annually, but said the damage in B.C. this month "will significantly (raise) this average."

He added 97 per cent of federal funding towards rebuilding from climate change impacts since 1970 has been incurred over the past 25 years, underscoring the need for more investment.

"It's clear we have to make more significant investments to help our provincial and territorial partners build critical infrastructure that is sustainable, resilient, and adaptive to the new climate reality," Blair said.

Read more: B.C. floods: Federal government sends over 500 troops for relief efforts

He also said that how Canada prepares for climate events must be changed, including improving public alerting systems. The public alert system in B.C. has been criticized for not warning residents early enough of the impending rainfall.

"We can be forward-leaning ... and change the way we prepare for these events," Blair said.

"There's a national consensus that more must be done."

The debate began at 6:30 p.m. EST and is expected to last until midnight. The request for the debate was supported by the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens.

It began with Vancouver Island Green MP Elizabeth May saying that there must be a national effort to address climate change and its impacts.

"There’s not one place that's safe and secure ... in a climate emergency," she said.

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Abbotsford Conservative MP Ed Fast later spoke on the effects of the rain on B.C. and his constituency.

"We were told a historical weather event was on its way," he said. "We had no idea how bad or devastating [it would be]."

At least 300 mm of rain fell in the province, setting records in 20 communities, according to Fast.

The storm resulted in at least four deaths, around 17,000 British Columbians evacuated and an estimated 2,000 cattle killed, Fast said, as well as numerous mudslides and closed highways.

Fast said there are "serious economic consequences" to the disaster, including CP and CN rails affected, though CP Rail began again Wednesday and CN Rail will start Thursday.

The federal government has already sent over 500 troops to B.C. to aid recovery efforts.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the events in B.C. showed not only that the climate crisis was no longer a "problem for the future," but also showed how the Liberal government's "pretty words" on combating climate change have failed to lead to real action.

Yet he avoided a pointed question from May on whether he would support cancelling the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the B.C. LNG project -- actions that May noted would anger provincial NDP leaders there.

Instead, Singh said the government must focus on ending subsidies for the oil and gas industry while following through on promises to invest more in mitigation and prevention infrastructure.

Fast and other Conservative MPs, including party leader Erin O'Toole, pushed back on questions they received about addressing fossil fuel emissions and other climate change measures, saying the people of B.C. and other impacted communities needed help first.

"I'm not trying to say that this isn't an important question, but I would say it is not what is immediately facing us right now," said Marc Dalton, MP for the B.C. riding of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge.

Read more: B.C. on edge as next atmospheric river set to hit the province overnight Wednesday

The emergency debate comes as three new storms are set to hit B.C. that are all expected to be the same type that put the province in a state of emergency: atmospheric rivers.

An atmospheric river is when a large, narrow stream of vapour travels through the sky and can cause higher than normal amounts of rainfall.

Global BC Meteorologist Kristi Gordon says the next three storms to hit B.C. are expected to bring over 200 per cent above the average precipitation the province sees in the fall, placing November into record-breaking territory for rainfall.

Video: B.C. braces for storm threatening disaster recovery efforts

The first of the series of storms will hit the B.C. coast late Wednesday, with the heaviest precipitation expected Wednesday night through early Friday morning.

"That's not good news," Fast said. "We're not through this yet."

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, particularly near the mountains. It also includes the Sea to Sky corridor and the Sunshine Coast from Gibsons to Earls Cove, where 40 to 80 mm is expected to fall by Friday morning.

“This storm will be shorter-lived and less intense than the event over Nov. 13 to 15,” Environment Canada said.

Read more: Nova Scotia’s Victoria County under state of emergency amid flooding, road washouts

The next storm is then expected for Saturday and early Sunday, and the third is predicted to hit next Tuesday, according to Global BC meteorologist Mark Madryga.

Blair said the federal government is monitoring the weather "very closely" to make sure the province has what it needs.

The emergency debate comes as the House of Commons recently reconvened on Monday for the first time since the September election gave the Liberals a minority government.

— with files from Amy Judd and the Canadian Press

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