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With intense rain in the forecast for the next several days, B.C. Premier John Horgan is bracing for the worst. A year like none other in his province has conditioned him to be that way.

Forest fires, heat waves and now catastrophic rains that have led to unimaginable destruction and caused five deaths – B.C. has seen it all in 2021. And Mr. Horgan has had to deal with the tragic events of the last week while coping with his own personal health crisis.

Next week, he will begin a gruelling series of radiation treatments for throat cancer. He is optimistic about his prognosis and can imagine enjoying a pint of Guinness in a Victoria pub early in the new year.

He’s more worried about the psyche of the citizens of B.C., who have been battered by one emergency after another. It can’t help but take a toll on people, he acknowledges, on their mental well-being. The Premier says people are understandably frightened and concerned and likely will be for years to come.

“When temperatures start to rise in the summer there are some who are instantly going to think we’re in for another heat dome,” Mr. Horgan said in an interview. “When it begins raining in the winter, that will be another trigger. This situation we’re in right now, and the one we went through in the summer, is going to have a long-lasting impact on all our lives.”

Mr. Horgan said “fragile” is the best way to describe the state of the province. That applies to critical infrastructure that has been compromised by recent floods as well as the general mindset of the public. While there have been early estimates on the cost of the reconstruction that will need to take place – the Royal Bank of Canada forecasted the price tag to be $7.5-billion – the Premier said it’s far too early to say.

B.C. still has a winter to get through, and more rains, and who knows what else. The list of things that need to be repaired may still grow. But he thinks the province is in a good position financially to meet the challenge. He says he believes Ottawa is prepared to step up and help as well. Some of the most important decisions will be around how to build back in a way that takes into account the significant and likely permanent changes in our weather patterns caused by a warming planet.

The Premier also acknowledged there will have to be some hard decisions to make.

Vast stretches of Highway 8 linking the towns of Spences Bridge and Merritt collapsed into the Nicola River that runs beside it. The extent of the damage, and the cost of repairing it, is still being determined. The atmospheric river responsible for the devastation in the province changed the course of the river, rendering some homes permanently uninhabitable.

The rebuilding job ahead will have to take into account a new reality. Climate change is likely to make floods more common, so that needs to be considered during reconstruction.

Grand Forks, in the southeast corner of B.C., has been the victim of flooding on several occasions and was again in June. Mr. Horgan said there have been “learnings” from the rebuilding efforts that have taken place there that can be applied to places such as Merritt, which was evacuated because of flooding.

“I think we are well placed because of past experiences like Grand Forks to begin conversations about what the Nicola Valley is going to look like in five years time,” Mr. Horgan said. “It will look different. There will have to be changes to account for what we’re dealing with.

“There are people there that have been greatly affected by what’s happened and I have huge sorrow for them,” the Premier continued. “My own health issue helps me a great deal as an empath, of sorts, when thinking about the challenges that other people are facing.”

As Mr. Horgan spoke rain pounded outside his office window at the B.C. legislature in Victoria. The House rose this week for the year. Besides all of the natural disasters with which the province has had to deal, there has also been, of course, the pandemic. It’s been enough to test the resilience of even the sturdiest of people, he said.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve used the word ‘unprecedented’ in the past year but it’s been a lot,” the Premier said. “There has been nothing like it in my lifetime and I hope there’s nothing like it again for a long, long time, if ever.”

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