B.C.'s deputy premier says 2021 was 'unprecedented,' but praises people's resiliency

·3 min read
Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth said the province is learning lessons from the many emergencies it faced in 2021.  (Mike McArthur/CBC News - image credit)
Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth said the province is learning lessons from the many emergencies it faced in 2021. (Mike McArthur/CBC News - image credit)

This is the third in a series of year-end interviews with the leaders of B.C.'s major political parties.

In 2021 in British Columbia, a town burned down, more than 500 people died in a heat dome, more than 10,000 people were displaced in what could be Canada's costliest natural disaster ever, and more than 2,000 people are expected to die from illicit drug overdoses, a record amount.

Also the pandemic continued.

"It's unbelievable the challenges that some communities and some people in B.C. have had to face this year," said Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth in an interview with CBC News.

Ordinarily, the premier would be conducting traditional year-end interviews with media outlets, but cancer treatments meant the task fell to Farnworth.

As the province's public safety minister and solicitor general, Farnworth has been at the centre of many of B.C.'s emergencies this year and the challenges people have confronted.

"It's something that no one should have to face. It's just unprecedented in this province," he said.

"But that being said, we live in a remarkable province, with incredibly resilient people … there's one thing I know we can count on, and that's British Columbians will come together no matter what happens to make sure we get through."

Taking over dike management

The use of the word "unprecedented" by B.C. leaders in recent weeks has rankled some who argue it implies trying to absolve the government of accountability for their response to multiple emergencies.

Farnworth said both the summer heat dome and fall flooding were "events that we have never seen before in this province, both in a way that they happened and in their impact," but the province was reviewing both events to be better prepared in the future.

"Are there messages to be learned from this? Absolutely."

As an example of that, Farnworth indicated the province would be taking over much of the responsibility for dike maintenance and management from municipalities in the new year, in order to allow for a more co-ordinated approach for flood prevention.

"We cannot have a patchwork approach, and that means the province needs to have a much greater role in terms of the diking system, when they're upgraded, how they're maintained," he said.

Farnworth also mentioned the ongoing work to rebuild Lytton and the expansion of the province's emergency alert system next year as priorities — though he once again said that texting residents in an emergency was "not a silver bullet".

Police transition ongoing

At the same time, 2022 will bring Farnworth challenges unconnected to the emergencies of 2021, including the ongoing transition in Surrey from an RCMP detachment to an independent police force.

To facilitate a staggered transition, the province has lowered the suggested number of officers the new force can hire next year, with political opponents of Mayor Doug McCallum still calling for a stop to the switch, but Farnworth continued to indicate that it is still on track.

"We pay close attention to what happens in a municipal election, but the reality is that transition is well underway, and council voted unanimously to terminate the contract," he said.

And 2022 will also bring with it a new legislative session, a new B.C. Liberal leader of the opposition — and Farnworth believes an old face leading key events for the province once again.

"I talk with the premier every day. He's very upbeat. He's feeling very good about his prognosis," said Farnworth.

"As he jokes with me, yes the radiation, it makes you feel tired and it's not the most fun thing to through, but he said … his wife kind of appreciates the quiet a bit."

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