Skip to content

B.C. Chamber CEO calls for urgent reforms to disaster assistance programs

Plans for helping businesses following natural disasters ‘developed for a different time’
Fiona Famulak, president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, says the growing frequency of natural disasters like wildfires requires new forms of government assistance for business. (Photo courtesy of BC Wildfire Service)

B.C.’s existing support for business impacted by natural disasters is out of date, says the CEO of a provincial business group.

BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Fiona Famulak called on the provincial government Wednesday (June 21) to urgently revise existing programs.

“The reality is the business continuity assistance programs currently in place were developed for a different time.”

All levels of government must work together to address the needs of workers, business owners and communities when they are hit, directly or indirectly, by natural disasters that are having increasingly dire consequences, she said.

Famulak’s comments come against the immediate backdrop of the Cameron Bluffs wildfire that’s had Highway 4, east of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, closed since June 6.

But it also points to larger trends.

READ MORE: Businesses, workers in Port Alberni adjust to Highway 4 closure

READ MORE: Highway 4 re-opening remains ‘on schedule’ as wildfire is under control

Provincial authorities say the highway will open in limited fashion by the weekend of June 24.

An alternate route consisting of public and private roads has allowed access to Port Alberni and communities like Tofino to the west. But the closure of the only public highway connecting the western shore of Vancouver Island to the rest of the Island and beyond has caused no small measure of economic disruptions in the area.

Famulak praised the work of crews fighting fires everywhere across the province, but added the closure of Highway 4 is having a “significant impact” on both area residents and businesses, which are facing “significant financial losses” by being severed from the rest of the province.

Tofino and Ucluelet are major travel destinations for both domestic and international tourists to B.C., while the Alberni Valley has an agricultural sector.

RELATED: Secondary route punch-throughs not always possible in B.C. disasters: minister

“In past years, we have witnessed the impacts that wildfires, flooding, drought-like conditions, and severe heat waves have had on communities across B.C. and on our provincial infrastructure,” Famulak said. “These natural disasters are occurring more frequently and, often, with greater intensity.”

She added that the situation will likely only get worse with a full summer and wildfire season ahead. “Sadly, small-and medium-sized businesses — the backbone of our provincial economy – bear much of the cost of the impacts of natural disasters,” she said.

Businesses, which are “integral to the fabric and long-term health” of communities, also need support when natural disasters hit. They’re no less vulnerable in needing assistance.

“Yet financial support is either not available or eligibility criteria are too narrow and do not take into account the myriad ways in which natural disasters impact businesses,” she said.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said last week that B.C. has been in discussion with the business community, as well the federal government about assistance for affected businesses.

Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma echoed these lines in a statement to Black Press Media. She said her ministry understands the closure of Highway 4 has caused difficulties for people in the area, while impacting business.

“Highway 4 is expected to open to single-lane alternating traffic this weekend,” she said. “Keeping people safe is the top priority.”

She also said that government knows that the coming wildfire season is going to be challenging. “Already, we have seen significant fires and smoke impacting people, communities, businesses and roads and leading to evacuation orders and alerts,” she said. “Businesses across the country are being impacted by this wildfire season. The federal government has warned that this may be the worst wildfire season this century and the province has reached out to the federal government to ask whether they will be offering support to businesses across the country affected.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
Read more