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Extreme Weather Brings Continuing Pain to East and West as Ottawa Urged to ‘Build Back Better’

As the east coast reels from last week’s savage rainstorm, and British Columbia struggles desperately for traction with another atmospheric river coming ashore, observers are urging the Liberal government not to forfeit what remains of Canada’s inbuilt resilience, and to embrace the “build back better” agenda it promised in 2020.

More wild weather is on the radar for Newfoundland and Labrador, reports CTV News, with 50 millimetres of rain expected even as repair work starts on “crater-sized” washouts on the Trans-Canada Highway, and cut-off communities turn to air transport for essential supplies and travel. Likewise, rain-ravaged southwestern B.C. was facing further inundation as a third consecutive storm came ashore on Tuesday.

Issuing a series of weather alerts for much of the Lower Mainland and southwest interior, Environment Canada said the already supersaturated Fraser Valley could receive as much as another 100 millimetres by Wednesday, reports CBC News. Parts of Vancouver Island and the Central Coast could see up to 200 millimetres of rain during the storm. 

Compounding the misery and danger of this latest storm will be its duration. It could deliver “relentless rain” for as long as 48 hours, at least 12 hours longer than the two previous storms, said meteorologist Geoff Coulson. Such predictions have authorities renewing flood warnings for many rivers in the region, including the Coquihalla, the Tulameen, and the Coldwater, all three of which breached their banks causing catastrophic damage and much tragic loss when the first atmospheric river made landfall on November 14.

In the Fraser Valley, which has already endured biblical levels of flooding, communities like Abbotsford are bracing for yet another deluge.

Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun told CBC that city crews, with the help of the military, are “pumping about a billion gallons a day” out of the surging Sumas River and into tubes called “Tiger Dams” which inflate to over a metre in height, thus using floodwaters themselves to hold further floodwaters back.

Even as he battles the Sumas River, Braun is looking south to the nearby Nooksack River in Washington State, describing as “his worst nightmare” what could happen should floodwaters from that river breach Abbotsford’s already fragile dike system.

Such fears are hardly hypothetical, writes the Globe and Mail. Two weeks after the Nooksack did breach its banks, “sending a great pulse of water into Canada,” repair work in the border town of Sumas, Washington, is faltering, for reasons both bureaucratic (no one seems to have learned valuable lessons in prevention when the river flooded last year) and purely physical.

The last round of flooding gouged a gap “more than 30 metres long and nearly 10 metres deep” in a critical levee, before scouring a deep pit in the ground beyond the break, the Globe explains. Work to repair the levee can only happen once the pit is filled, but the rocks being poured into the pit to fill it are themselves being continually stripped away by the swollen river.

Responding to the ongoing misery, the province has extended fuel rationing to December 14, the date when the federally-owned Trans Mountain Corporation has pledged to have its pipeline, a critical delivery route for oil and gas to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, open for business. The pipeline was shut down as a precautionary measure on November 14, and crews continue to work to rebury lengths of pipe dangerously exposed by flooding.

As a result, Rigzone reports that fuel supplier Parkland has ceased refinery processing operations at its Burnaby Refinery as it waits for the Trans Mountain, which supplies all of its crude oil feedstock, to reopen.

Likewise waiting, reports the Globe and Mail, were 54 ships (at last count) in anchorage off the Port of Vancouver, 16 of them for grain stalled on the other side of a still significantly broken supply chain. Another 13 were to fill up with coal.

The storms that hammered the Lower Mainland throughout November have also set blueberry farmers back by at least 10 years. Speaking with the Canadian Press, berry farmer Curtis Sandhu pointed out that the floods arrived just four months after extreme heat “torched” his raspberry crop and roughly 25% of all his other fruit and vegetables. Farmers and toxicity experts are also expressing deep concern about the possible contamination of precious farm soil after being weeks awash in a chemical soup of fuel, pesticides, and garbage, writes CBC.

Writing in the wake of B.C.’s first apocalyptic hammering by an atmospheric river, Toronto Star columnist Heather Scoffield urged the Trudeau government to embrace the doctrine of “build back better” as the only rational response to a climate crisis that is tightening its grip on Canada. Included in the government’s 2020 Fall Economic Statement, the concept was originally presented as a plan to recover from the pandemic-induced recession. But “climate change is now raging upon us, and it means we have to build back from that, too,” writes Scoffield.

While the costs to build a more sustainable and resilient (and just) Canada “will be persistent and large,” they will not be “unaffordable if we handle it rationally and with zeal,” writes Scoffield.

And we need to seize the moment, she says, noting that Moody’s Investors Services has once again given Canada a triple-A credit rating. “While the coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for the Canadian economy and resulted in a near-term deterioration in the fiscal position, we expect the sovereign’s credit profile to be resilient over the medium term,” the agency wrote.

But as “the B.C. catastrophe reminds us that the churn of a destabilized world will slam us, again and again,” Scoffield added, “we are not ready, and it’s time to get on with it.”