“Will the minister do the right thing and work with the community on a buyout plan?” This was the direct question asked by Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton in the BC Legislature. Mungall was asking on behalf of the residents of Johnson’s Landing who one year ago had their community torn apart by a massive landside, killing four people and destroying five homes. Mungall was joined by opposition Leader Adrian Dix in pressuring the minister to follow through on a commitment made by the premier to support the people of Johnson’s Landing in their recovery.
Some residents of Johnsons Landing lost everything, but still have to pay taxes on property they may never be able to set foot on again. Mungall as she asked Anton to work with the residents of Johnson’s Landing on a compensation plan. Unfortunately, the Minister showed indifference to the ongoing struggles in Johnsons Landing. Mungall has said she is committed to continue to pressure the minister for fair compensation.
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DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY (HANSARD) THURSDAY, JULY 11, 2013 Afternoon Sitting GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR RESIDENTS OF JOHNSON’S LANDING A. Dix: Tomorrow will mark one year since a massive landslide hit the community of Johnsons Landing, killing four people and destroying five homes. At the time, the Premier said that Johnsons Landing residents “have our government’s full support as they recover.” It’s clear, however, that they haven’t received the full support of the government. A recently completed geotechnical report has shown that 12 households are at a high or very high risk of another slide. On the basis of that report, many residents have been told that they can never return to their homes. The risk is just too great. Responding to the report, the government suggested that the province has no capacity or legislative authority to pursue buyouts. The Premier made a clear commitment. To the current Justice Minister: why will this government not honour the commitment of the Premier and support Johnsons Landing residents, who have not only seen their community devastated but have been financially damaged as well? Hon. S. Anton: A year ago there was a tragic and unexpected landslide at Johnsons Landing. It resulted in the deaths of four people — a terrible loss to their families. Homes were destroyed, and property was damaged. For the past year the Emergency Management B.C. people have been on the ground helping out with the residents at Johnsons Landing, with the full cooperation of the regional district. In fact, over $1 million has been spent at that location, both with the technical support and also with financial support. The financial support includes $400,000 in disaster financial assistance and another $178,000 pending in disaster financial assistance both with technical support and also with financial support — the financial support including $400,000 in disaster financial assistance. Another $178,000 is pending in that disaster financial assistance. The emergency management team has viewed it as their job to be as liberal and as helpful as they can to residents in the neighbourhood. And they have lost homes. There are homes that they cannot go back to, and there are properties that people cannot return to. It has been a very tough time, Madame Speaker, and I would like to thank the residents for their resilience, for their forbearance and for their cooperation with Emergency Management B.C. As I said, the team has been working very hard to do the best they can and to apply the remedies and the help that we have as liberally and as helpfully as they can. Madame Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition on a supplemental. A. Dix: Well, to put it simply, they can’t go back to their homes in these cases, and they can’t sell either. The minister talks about applying the rules liberally. Well, as the minister will know, after the 2005 landslide in North Vancouver destroyed two homes and killed one person, the province agreed to pay 100 percent of a buyout plan proposed by the regional district. Now the residents of Johnsons Landing and the regional district director met with the Premier and the minister and discussed a potential buyout plan, but now the government says it cannot and will not do anything. The minister might be as surprised as I am and as this House is, however, that the owners of property in Johnsons Landing still have to pay taxes on property that they can’t live on. Can the Minister of Justice tell this House why the liberal approach that has been used in the past is not being applied to the residents of Johnsons Landing, so devastated by this situation? Hon. S. Anton: As I would like to emphasize, Emergency Management B.C. is continuing to provide all the help that it can within the program that it operates. In fact, we’ve had a couple of letters from the regional district of Central Kootenay thanking government and the emergency management teams for all the work that they have done in support of the community. We will continue to do what we can to support the residents within the program, within what is possible in the resources of government and the programs of government. As I said earlier, we’ve spent nearly $600,000, in fact, in direct benefits to residents. We will continue, and our teams will continue, to apply the programs as quickly, as helpfully and as liberally as they can. It does not allow for home purchase, but it does allow for many other things, which they’ve been working with. It has been a very tough time on the residents, and it continues to be a tough time. It’s a terrible thing to lose your home, to lose access to your property, but believe me, Madame Speaker, the emergency management people are doing everything they can to help with that situation. Madame Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition on a supplemental. A. Dix: The fact of the matter is: when it came to North Vancouver, the government paid 100 percent of the costs. In the case of Johnsons Landing they can’t find room within the program to address the question. I think this is both profoundly unfair to people in Johnsons Landing and also leaves them very little place to go. I mean, the government is happy — perhaps not happy, but accepting of the situation — where they’re paying taxes on property they can’t go back to. They’re certainly not applying the liberal definition of their approach that they applied for residents of North Vancouver. So I’d ask the Minister of Justice again — because in the May 16 report the regional district identified the potential to rebuild or relocate homes to safer areas: will the minister not open up discussions on these very questions with the residents of Johnsons Landing and apply the same liberal principles that were applied in the case of North Vancouver? Hon. S. Anton: The circumstances in North Vancouver were different than the circumstances in Johnsons Landing. There was a program that was available in North Vancouver to mitigate future damage, but in this case there is unfortunately not a program. We do have programs of support, and I would like to emphasize that the emergency management has been using those programs — nearly $600,000 in direct support to the residents mitigate future damage, but in this case, there’s unfortunately not a program. We do have programs of support, and I would like to emphasize that the emergency management has been using those programs, nearly $600,000 in direct support to the residents and over a million dollars in total, because of the other mitigation and technical work that they have done in that district. We have received letters of appreciation, working within the programs that we have got, emergency management has been doing the very best it can helping residents in Johnsons Landing. M. Mungall: Four people died a year ago in Johnsons Landing. Many of their friends and neighbours have been evacuated from their homes for the past year, and after the recently completed geotechnical report, the regional district is unlikely to lift the evacuation order in high and very high-risk locations. Residents have been emotionally and financially devastated. While the minister says that Emergency Management B.C. is doing everything they can, Emergency Management B.C. now needs leadership from this government. Will the minister do the right thing and work with the community on a buyout plan? Hon. S. Anton: I think everybody in British Columbia…. I’m sure, in their communities, people were horrified at the disaster that struck, at the loss of life, the tragic loss of life in Johnsons Landing. It was a terrible moment. We do have programs. Emergency Management B.C. runs the government programs that can help in these circumstances. They have been on the ground almost as they could humanly possibly get there. They have worked very hard with the residents. As I said earlier, over a million dollars, including nearly $600,000 in direct assistance to families, which they have been getting out as helpfully and as quickly and as liberally as they can. Those are the programs that we have, and as I said earlier, there have been letters of appreciation. They have been working very hard on the ground to do what they can to alleviate the tragedy and the tragic circumstances in Johnsons Landing. Madame Speaker: Nelson-Creston on a supplemental. M. Mungall: We have seen in other provinces that governments can and will act to provide assistance to citizens in need when hit by natural disasters. In Manitoba, after flooding in 2009, the residents of Breezy Point were offered buyouts. More recently, just next door in Alberta, we saw the government act promptly in response to the terrible flooding we saw in Calgary and elsewhere. Here in B.C. the Premier made a promise to the residents of Johnsons Landing, and then she reneged on that promise. This government and this minister need to understand that many Johnsons Landing residents have lost everything and yet can’t move on and are even paying property taxes on their homes buried under metres of mud. What Johnsons Landing needs a year later is genuine support from this government, not empty words. Will this minister and the Premier deliver on that support and work with residents on a compensation plan? Hon. S. Anton: Again, I would like to emphasize the support that our teams did get from the regional district of Central Kootenay, who did send a couple of letters of appreciation for the hard work that the emergency management teams have done in delivering our government programs, our government assistance programs, to the families of the victims of this tragedy. It was a terrible tragedy, and I know it struck everybody in British Columbia, which is why the teams there have been doing the best they can and the most they can within our emergency management programs to help the people in Johnsons Landing.