Like many climate disasters before it, Fiona shows resilience of Canadian communities

Speaker: Ms. May
Time: 26/09/2022 23:40:17
Context: Debate

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Mr. Speaker, it is in fact a late hour, but it is a good metaphor for where we are on the climate crisis because, at the moment, we are standing on the very edge of too late with respect to the advice we have been given by the international scientific process, the largest peer-review process in the history of human civilization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I want to start by acknowledging that we are standing on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation and say meegwetch.

I also want to begin by saying how deeply moved, concerned and committed, I think all of us are in this place, to assist the people of Atlantic Canada.

Aussi au Québec, parce que les Îles de la Madeleine ont été affectées par l’ouragan.

J’ai aussi de l’inquiétude pour la population de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.

I have heard nothing of what has happened to the French protectorate south of Newfoundland and Labrador. I have searched the news to see. That is a place I visited and find intriguing and charming, is Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which was pretty darned exposed to Fiona as she ran through eastern Canada, Quebec and every single one of our Atlantic provinces. As members have heard me mention a few times in this place, I am both a Cape Bretoner and British Columbian. I have family in both places and have experienced the climate events that walloped British Columbia last summer, the summer of 2017 and many other occasions, and the previous hurricanes through Atlantic Canada. My thoughts are with everyone who has been impacted.

I also want to, if the Minister of Emergency Preparedness happens to be watching, send him our good thoughts. I know he is recovering from knee surgery, as I did recently, and it is no picnic. I am sure he is working really hard from wherever he is at dealing with emergency preparedness now.

Tonight’s debate raised a lot of commonalities. I want to speak to those because I think it is important when we find things in common. One was that so often when we hear people speaking of the impacts from hurricane Fiona, no phones, no cellphones, no electricity, a real sense of isolation, I can say those very same things run through a lot of climate events that have happened in the last few years.

In my own riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands we had entirely bracketed the week of Christmas 2018 for many people within the riding with no landline phones, no cellphones, no electricity, particularly in the Gulf Islands. It was an experience very much like the one we have heard of, people running out with their chainsaws clearing trees out of the way, trying to help neighbours, reaching the elderly neighbours who were alone at Christmas, getting help to people because no other help was coming.

The same thing was true when I talked to the fire chief in Ashcroft about the summer of 2017 when they were on evacuation warnings. This is interior B.C., not far from Lytton in the riding of Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon. He said that they did know what to do. They had no phones, no cell phones, no power and were told they were on evacuation alert. They did not know how they were going to let their citizens know if they had to evaluate. They now think that the technology we need is a really big bell at the fire station so they can warn the town. Our technology is running up against some fairly grim limits that are set by extreme weather events that knock out all our technology. We need to really pay attention to this.

The same thing was said of what happened with respect to the floods that occurred in November. Everybody was there with no phones, no cells and no electricity, so we have some commonalities.

When we say Atlantic Canadians are resilient, neighbour helps neighbour, I would like to say Canadians are resilient, neighbour helps neighbour whether one is in the Gulf Islands of my riding, the interior B.C. or a farmer on the Prairies and needs help, or an Atlantic Canadian. I do not even think there is a rural-urban divide to the extent that it is possible to help in an urban centre. I think rural Canadians have more skills to handle the collapse of things all around them, but I think the heart and soul of every Canadian is to help everybody who is a neighbour, to get out there and pitch in when a community is in trouble.

I think that Atlantic Canada’s provincial governments, every single one of them, and the federal government, did a remarkable job in warning people.

The number of lives lost is tragic in this storm but we lost 800 or 900 people in B.C. last summer because of the heat dome, which was completely predictable right down to the hours, and the provincial government ignored it, never called for an emergency and never warned communities.

There is a difference when governments respond appropriately. I want to give credit where credit is due here. The governments of Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the federal government identified early that this was going to be really bad and did their best to tell people to stay home and not take chances. That saved lives. Forgive me for being angry about it, but the provincial government of British Columbia cost lives last year when it decided not to call for a state of emergency, not to warn communities and not to open cooling centres.

I hope we have learned by comparing the two kinds of disasters that provincial governments play a big role here. They have to step up early and say it is an emergency and that they need help. When they do that, the federal partner has to reach out as well.

There are two parts to this debate that we have had tonight. What we do immediately to help people and help people rebuild has been raised. Quite a few members have noted that we cannot necessarily rebuild exactly where we were. We have to have a resilience. We have to adapt to a changed circumstance of extreme weather events that have not yet finished doing their worst. They will continue to worsen. That is baked into the climate science. However, we do know that as we rebuild and help people that that help must be real and tangible and not just be empty words. I have mentioned, more than a few times tonight that the people of Lytton are still waiting to see a town. People are still waiting to be rebuilt where they are.

My husband’s farm is a family place but his daughter had been living there and nearly died in the heat dome. Literally, the temperature at my husband’s farm last summer hit 50°C and my step-daughter Julia nearly died. They are not there any more but the house has been pretty steadily occupied by people who have no place to go. Last summer there was a wave first of people who had lost their homes in the fires and then people who had lost their homes in the floods, so the house has proven to be very helpful for lots of people who have no place to live. This is the reality of the climate emergency on the bleeding edge of it, which is in places like Lytton, Ashcroft and now Atlantic Canada.

The second part of how we respond is this. What do we learn about climate science? How was this hurricane affected by climate events such as the warming ocean?

We know that the heating of our atmosphere dumps itself into our oceans: ocean heating. I find this astonishing. Every single second of every minute of every hour of every day the oceans absorb, due to the climate crisis, the energy equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs; every second. No wonder the ocean south of Nova Scotia has been heating. It has been heating for some time and then the hurricanes came up the eastern seaboard tracking along the gulf stream. The water does not cool down the way it used to.

The average temperature for the water south of Nova Scotia, pre-climate change, used to be about 15°C in September at this time of year. If we were to look at the temperature records for last week, it was 20°C, then 18°C and had dropped to 17°C the day that Fiona hit Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and all of the adjacent areas, but it was accompanied by extraordinary low barometric pressure. Several members have mentioned this. In fact, it was the lowest barometric pressure every recorded from any storm in Canada. As well, we had a wind shear event which, as the hon. member for Charlottetown mentioned, was the big surprise for P.E.I. The wind storm was not really like any hurricane they had ever seen before.

We need to pay attention to the climate advice. That means the Government of Canada, as hard as it is for the Liberals to do this, must recognize that the IPCC has warned us that if we do not stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere; if we do not ensure that they peak and begin to drop before 2025, it will be too late to hold to 1.5°C or even 2°C. That is why it really matters that we get this right because the window will close on 1.5°C or 2°C before the next election. That means the government itself has to turn itself inside out.