Following the Intergovernmental Committee meeting on Monday, April 11, co-chairs Bill Blair, Minister of Emergency Preparedness, and Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety, became available to media for questions.
“We’ve had very positive meetings with Mayor Brown. She has outlined the issues that are of concern to her and the community of Merritt,” said Farnworth.
“There have been significant work already done, but what I can tell is I am expecting that there will be an additional announcement in very short order that deals with housing in Merritt.”
Mayor Linda Brown met with the Intergovernmental Committee on Disaster Response and Climate Resilience. This governing body is in charge of managing the budget of an estimated $5 billion granted to the Province of BC by the federal government.
“I can assure you just I’ve assured Mayor Brown and her colleagues that their perspective and their advocacy on behalf of the constituents that they serve is a critical part of informing the federal government and the provincial government on how we have to work together to respond,” Blair stated.
Although it wasn’t clear what the meeting with the committee might result in, Brown was very optimistic that it gets the City of Merritt closer to the help it needs.
“The good thing is we’re invited to speak on behalf of our constituents and that’s a good sign,” said Brown.
“I’m hoping that it gets us one step closer to get housing which is our number one priority here.”
The committee’s co-chairs Bill Blair and Mike Farnworth have both been made aware of the pressing need in Merritt.
“One of the things Mayor Brown made clear to me is that there are many people in the town of Merritt, over 200, who are still in difficult interim housing situations,” said Blair.
“They are living with the uncertainty and anxiety of wanting to know when that recovery will take place, how they can begin to go back to a more normal life, and how, going forward, their community can be protected from similar events.”
In the meeting, Brown emphasized the importance of getting displaced Merritonians back home. Currently, there are 270 households that are on evacuation order with residents scattered across Kamloops, Kelowna, and surrounding areas. Some residents are even known to be relocated as far as Nelson and Prince George.
“They’ve got a pretty good grasp on the issue already and they’ve got to be close with the acceptance of our plan,” Brown explained. “However, I think they need to take this up as a committee back to the treasury board for approval so it’s not just that easy.”
Farnworth assured that residents who have been displaced are not forgotten.
“For people who have been displaced, those fundings for their situations will continue,” said Farnworth.
“Right now the Red Cross is providing resources both on the basis of the funds raised by them and the funds provided by the Province of BC and the federal government.”
The city has been exploring numerous projects to help citizens both permanently and in the interim. Brown told the Herald that the city is requesting “approximately $11 million” to fund the housing projects.
“We need to bring our citizens home,” said Brown. “I’ve stated this to many but right now, they are refugees out of their own home at this point.”
Brown also added, “we are ready to go, we are ready for our pilot project especially the 3D printed homes, but also the fact that we have a whole lot of other options available to us.”
Brown explained that aside from both temporary and permanent solutions for housing of citizens, the city is also looking into temporary housing for tradesmen who would be working on the different projects.
“We don’t have enough tradesmen in town in order for us to do what we need to do without having some temporary housing for them as well.”
The meeting was held at Canada Place in Vancouver, BC. There were 27 mayors of other disaster affected towns that were in attendance.
“I think there’s a unique approach evident here in BC where the province has convened all levels of government to come to the table and to work together to ensure that those discussions take place so we can collaborate and work together in an appropriate way,” said Blair.
The committee on Disaster Response and Climate Resilience is a joint committee consisting of federal, provincial, and First Nations representatives.