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B.C. flood and fire victims take call for climate action to Ottawa

B.C. residents planned meeting on same day of federal committee talks with oil and gas executives
The McDougall Creek wildfire on August 17, 2023, from Kelowna, B.C. (Contributed to Black Press Media)

On the morning before Heather Mackay's West Kelowna home was engulfed by the McDougall Creek wildfire, she drove to her hairdressing job as normal.

She knew there were fires raging nearby, but smoke and flames had become an almost-normal part of summer life in her hot, dry Okanagan community. 

It wasn't until her husband called her later in the day and told her they were under evacuation order that Mackay said she started to understand the severity of the situation. Still, she recalls thinking it would be short-lived.

“Everybody just thought we were gone for the weekend.”

It came as a shock, then, when Mackay got a phone notification the next afternoon from her home video surveillance system showing smoke billowing through the place.

“I could hear the crackling and the popping and explosions, and the smoke detectors (going off). We knew that evening that our house was gone.”

Now, 10 months later, Mackay was one of four B.C. flood and wildfire victims who travelled to Ottawa on Thursday (June 6) to demand climate action from the federal government. Its standing committee on environment and sustainable development was meeting with oil and gas sector executives throughout the afternoon to discuss their profits and how they are working to reduce emissions. 

The oil and gas sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, at 31 per cent. 

Under a proposed framework released last December, the federal government has suggested a cap that would require the oil and gas sector to cut those emissions by 35 to 38 per cent from 2019 levels by 2030. The sector would also have the option to buy offset credits or contribute to a decarbonization fund that would lower that requirement to just 20 to 23 per cent.

The government has said the cap is intended to limit pollution, not oil and gas output, but the oil and gas sector has said the targets are too stringent and would result in companies cutting production.

NDP environment critic Laurel Collins, who called committee meeting, repeatedly asked the executives on Thursday to explain why their companies aren't moving faster to decarbonize. She said Canadians are concerned about the growing number of extreme weather events such as wildfire, drought and "heat domes" as the climate warms. 

Some Canadian oil and gas companies made record profits in 2022 as commodity prices soared in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the industry continues to generate healthy cash flows this year. 

“I just want politicians to take a firm stand," Mackay said. Her and three other B.C. women, as well as climate disaster victims from the Outaouais region of Quebec and the village of Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, spoke with some members of parliament prior to their meeting with oil and gas leaders. 

Mackay said she got the sense that certain politicians genuinely cared about their stories, but that others remain profit-focused and haven’t grasped the impact that climate change is having.

For her and others though, the possibility of another fire, flood or heat wave is always in the back of their minds.

Diana Boston, whose Merritt home was flooded during the 2021 atmospheric rivers, said every time she hears rain now it makes her heart beat faster.

"When I hear the raindrops on my bathroom skylight, that makes me worry."

Boston said her 19-year-old daughter has told her she doesn't think she wants to have kids of her own if it means bringing them into "a world that's going to fall apart." 

Mackay shared similar fears.

“Maybe it's trauma from the fire, but I’m scared for the future if we don't make some changes. We deserve better than watching our country burn.”

-With files from The Canadian Press


About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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