What was designed as a non-partisan press conference with Premier John Horgan and leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Wilkinson in Chilliwack Wednesday turned decidedly partisan in just a few minutes.
Horgan was with Wilkinson, local BC Liberal MLAs John Martin and Laurie Throness and Green Party deputy leader Sonia Furstenau on a helicopter tour of the Fraser River where water levels have surpassed “full bank conditions,” some evacuation orders have been issued, and the water keeps coming.
“We MLAs have been travelling up the Fraser to take stock of what will potentially be the worst flooding season we’ve seen in British Columbia in a considerable period of time,” Horgan said at a media availability after the tour in the Emergency Management B.C. warehouse in Chilliwack.
“We don’t see this as a partisan issue, we see this as an issue about people and about our province, and coming together like this is an opportunity to hear directly from Sharon and her council and other regional interest.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Mission gauge was at 5.66 metres, beyond the 5.5-metre level when the municipality begins dike patrols and other flood management activities. Some residents in the Carey Point area have been given evacuation orders, some are on alerts, and parts of Island 22 Regional Park are closed.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz spoke at EMBC warehouse and said flooding inside the diked area of the city is not anticipated, but that the water levels at the Mission gauge could rise as high as eight metres.
“And if it gets to eight, we could be in trouble,” she said.
The factor making its so hard to predict how high the river will get is rain. There have been record high snowpacks in the province and record high temperatures, but even with that, much of the city and the Fraser basin should remain protected. If it rains, however, things could change.
“We’ve had references to 1948, we’ve had references to 2012,” Horgan said, referring firstly to the devastating flood of 1948 and secondly to the high water six years ago. “That depends on how quick the snowpack melts and whether we have additional snowfall in the mountains.”
Before the conversation shifted, Wilkinson, too, pointed to the unity among political parties on the subject.
“This is a non-partisan issue in terms of flood management and taking care of disasters,” the BC Liberal leader said.
But even prior to the press conference and during the helicopter tour, the issue of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline was broached by Wilkinson who Tweeted images of high water near rail lines where trains carry oil cars.
And soon after the collegial exchanges of non-partisanship on the freshet, Wilkinson was asked to comment on the federal government’s surprising announcement in the morning that it would indemnify Kinder Morgan for the costs of any further delays due to politics.
Wilkinson said Horgan’s tactics to stall the pipeline was affecting affordability for British Columbians with higher gas prices. He said the Premier has three choices: reduce the tax on gas, reduce the carbon tax or a third: “Is he prepared to eat a bit of humble pie and realize that this pipeline is going ahead and he needs to accept that and work in the interest of British Columbians.”
Responded Horgan: “I don’t believe the public should make a connection between Kinder Morgan and high gas prices today because there is none.”
Furstenau was asked to also respond, and she said there is indeed a connection between Fraser River flooding and the Trans Mountain pipeline. That connection, she said, is climate change.