The provincial government has announced a new alert system for heat events. But critics question whether it does enough to protect the elderly and other vulnerable citizens.
A year ago, almost 600 British Columbians died during the June 25 to July 1 heat dome that set temperature records throughout the province. According to a BC Coroner Service report, 70 percent of those who died were more than 70 years old. Forty-eight people died from the heat on VanIsle.
Dubbed the BC Heat Alert and Response System, the so-called plan has two levels: warnings and extreme heat emergencies.
Warnings are defined as a “moderate increase in public health risk.” They will be triggered by different temperatures in different parts of the province.
So on the Lower Mainland and VanIsle, a forecast of two or more days with daytime highs of 29ºC or more and nighttime highs of 16ºC or more will prompt a warning.
When those temperatures are expected to continue for three or more days, the province will declare an extreme heat emergency.
But what that emergency means is anyone’s guess.
In a joint press conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnsworth said it’s up to local governments to put plans in place to protect citizens.
Ministers Dix and Farnsworth also announced $189 million in funding for community heat risk mapping and planning.
That sounds familiar—didn’t the province say the same thing about the floods last fall?
The new funding might be good for next summer. But it’s too late to make plans for this year.
It also sounds like passing the buck. Even with extra funding, small towns don’t have the same resources as the provincial government.
The province had no details about how it would care for seniors, people with mobility challenges, and those without a support network. Minister Dix said the government is waiting for recommendations from a soon-to-be-released BC Coroner report.
Instead, Farnsworth reminded everyone that nothing like last year’s heat dome had ever happened in BC.
That’s a weak response. We’re weeks away from the anniversary of the heat dome. Temperatures soared to more than 40ºC and towns literally burned to the ground.
Government has sat on the BC Coroner Service report for months. Waving their hands and saying “we’ve never seen this before” is no substitute for solid preparation and planning.
Is this the best John Horgan’s government can do? Our vulnerable citizens deserve much better.