Earlier this month in Glasgow, Scotland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the Council of Parties to the UN Climate Convention at their 26th meeting, known as COP26.

As part of his address, Trudeau referred to the community of Lytton, which was devastated this summer by the Lytton Creek wildfire, which saw 90% of the community destroyed following an intense heat wave.

“In Canada, there was a town called Lytton,” Trudeau said.

“I say ‘was’ because on June 30, it burned to the ground.”

Trudeau used the Village as an example of the supposed effects of climate change, though no official cause for the wildfire has yet been determined.

“What happened in Lytton can and has and will happen anywhere,” said Trudeau.

“How many more signs do we need?”

Lytton resident and member of the Lytton Chamber of Commerce Steering Committee, Denise O’Connor, heard the Prime Minister’s report and was immediately angered at her home being referred to in the past tense.

“I was very angry, I thought, what’s he saying?” said O’Connor.

“That’s past tense when he says, ‘Lytton was a town’, and I actually brought it up at one of our Chamber meetings.”

It was at this meeting that the Lytton Chamber of Commerce decided to send a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, expressing their dismay.

“Our homes and businesses are not just the brick and mortar that has turned to ash,” reads the letter.

“Our homes and businesses are truly where our hearts are. They are our sense of community, our love of the land and the rivers, and the myriad other reasons we all decided to call Lytton home. So, to hear you, Prime Minister, refer to our town in the past tense in your speech… breaks our hearts. Let us assure you, the town of Lytton still exists. It exists in the hearts and minds of every resident and every business.  Writing us off, as you did by referring to us in the past tense, reflects exactly how we have been treated.”

O’Connor and the others on the Chamber Steering Committee feel that the treatment of Lyttonites has been poor and even dismissive. Despite promises mere days after the fire, wherein Trudeau and Premier John Horgan both committed to assisting the village, very little help has been forthcoming.

“Right at the beginning, Trudeau and Horgan were both on the media saying how they were going to support the rebuilding of Lytton, and as far as we can tell, there’s been no financial support at all,” said O’Connor.

“We have been feeling such a lack of support, and it’s hard to separate the residents from businesses because the community is so small. Many of the businesses are family-owned businesses.”

And those businesses, O’Connor adds, are just like any other business across the province. They are still paying off mortgages and loans or inventory, but they are now stuck in a state of limbo.

“And there’s no support,” said O’Connor.

“During COVID, there were interest free loans for businesses and we’re asking why can’t there be something like that, even, to support our businesses? There has to be something.”

Lytton cannot be expected to fit into the existing, regular assistance streams. And, as many business owners are discovering, they were underinsured, leaving them scrambling for other resources.

“It’s an extraordinary situation that we’re in, there needs to be extraordinary measures for support.”

Trudeau has visited BC twice since the Lytton fire. Once on a holiday to Tofino on Vancouver Island in Sept. and once again to visit the former Kamloops Residential School site. Neither time did he journey to Lytton, nor did he reach out to the community or to the Chamber. And neither has Premier John Horgan.

“Absolutely not,” said O’Connor.

“We’ve heard nothing from the federal side of it. Even when the province and the Village were meeting, we had to ask if we could be included in that.”

Despite the losses, the Village of Lytton and residents in the area have every intention of rebuilding, and do not view their home in the past tense. And to dismiss the village as entirely gone is inaccurate, as O’Connor said there were many homes still standing within the boundaries of the Village, and that there are numerous Indigenous people on reserves in the area as well.

This is the second time that O’Connor has reached out for assistance for the community of Lytton, the first being at the provincial level.

“I’m not typically political at all, but on July 30 I sent a letter to the province, a month after the fire, and it was a petition letter and I had over 60 residents sign it and 13 businesses and organizations,” explained O’Connor.

“It was about getting help for our Village council, because they were just in over their heads, and that was to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Josie Osborne, and it took three weeks for her to answer that letter. We’re just very frustrated with the response from the province.”

The Chamber expects that it could take just as long to receive a reply from the Prime Minister’s office, if they receive one at all.

“When we heard Justin Trudeau make that statement, it was just like another nail in our coffin,” said O’Connor.

“We feel like he used us to further his agenda on climate change, really. We were like a token or a pawn or something.”

There have been some improvements in the Village, with the appointment of a temporary CAO and a Recovery Manager.

“We can see a few things moving forward, but it’s all things that should have been started two months ago,” said O’Connor.

“It just took so long.”

According to the Lytton Chamber of Commerce, “the idea of rebuilding is still a distant dream”, but rebuild they must, not only for the Village itself but for the many people who rely on the community for services. This includes the hamlets of Spences Bridge, Boston Bar and many others in rural areas and in nearby First Nations communities, a number which could be as high as 3,000 to 5,000 people in O’Connor’s estimation.

“They came to use the bank in Lytton, they came to shop at the grocery store, the pharmacy, the doctors, it’s not just about the little village that burnt down getting these services back, it affects so much more,” said O’Connor.

“We need the core services for our community, and they need help, and they need financial help.”