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Island MP calls for climate emergency relief for small businesses

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns says businesses should be compensated for loss of revenue
Crews install mesh barriers along Cameron Bluffs on Highway 4 to protect the road from falling debris. (PHOTO COURTESY MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE)

A Vancouver Island NDP MP is calling on the federal government to establish a climate emergency relief fund to compensate businesses for loss of revenue after climate emergencies.

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni) called on the federal government Wednesday (Aug. 16) to establish a climate emergency relief fund. He says small businesses should be compensated for loss of revenue due to climate emergencies, such as the Cameron Bluffs wildfire, which has cut off Port Alberni and the West Coast from the rest of Vancouver Island.

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“The economic consequences for small businesses and their employees due to the closure of the only highway to the Alberni Valley and the West Coast region of Vancouver Island has been devastating,” Johns said in a letter to Harjit Saijan, the federal minster of Emergency Preparedness. “I urge your consideration of a federal rapid emergency relief fund for small and medium sized businesses suffering the economic consequences of climate related emergencies such as the out-of-control wildfires in my riding.”

Johns said that the closures of Highway 4 have seriously undermined the tourism economy so critical to the Alberni Valley and west coast communities of Tofino and Ucluelet, which have already been struggling to recover following the pandemic. Many visitors have been forced to cancel reservations and supply chains have been interrupted due to the highway closures. The Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce has estimated a total of nearly $44 million in losses on the west coast alone.

“I believe that taxation of excess or windfall profits in the fossil fuel industry should finance such an initiative,” Johns explained to the minister as a way of financing the relief fund.

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The City of Port Alberni and the Districts of Tofino and Ucluelet and nine First Nations are only accessible by land on the provincial highway, although a much longer and precarious emergency route has been established. Johns said his office has received many calls from constituents urging action on highways, although this is a provincial responsibility.

“Although responsibility for slope stabilization and highway repair fall with the jurisdiction of the provincial government, I believe the hardships for small businesses that have been deprived of markets, suffered supply chain disruption or forced to lay off workers due to a climate emergency should be a call to action for the federal government,” he told the emergency preparedness minister.

Johns urged the minister to travel to his riding to meet directly with those who have been affected by economic disruption caused by the climate emergency.