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Western floods could come again – and the consequences will be felt across the economy

Derek Clayton of the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association takes Amritpal Grewal by boat to see his home after rainstorms lashed British Columbia, triggering landslides and floods, shutting highways, in Abbottsford, B.C., in November, 2021. JENNIFER GAUTHIER/REUTERS



Alex Mitchell is the CEO of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Fraser Valley Business Coalition.

Pascal Chan is the senior director, transportation, infrastructure and construction, at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

In Abbotsford, B.C., and across the Fraser Valley, we remember the floods of 2021 all too well. The climate event – considered one of the most expensive natural disasters in Canadian history – devastated businesses, farms and residents, caused billions of dollars in damage, disrupted rail lines, closed part of the U.S.-Canada border and cut off access to the Port of Vancouver for nine days because of a shutdown of Trans-Canada Highway 1.

And it will happen again if the federal government doesn’t act now.

Sumas Prairie in the Fraser Valley is home to the most productive farmland in the country. The agricultural sector generates $3.83-billion in annual economic activity within Abbotsford and accounts for 23 per cent of jobs. It’s a strong and vibrant industry that supports economic growth and food security in British Columbia and Canada.

Given the economic devastation in 2021 and the almost-assured economic destruction posed by future flooding, you would expect the federal government to make the necessary infrastructure investments to secure Sumas Prairie against natural disasters.

You would be wrong.

Critical federal funding the City of Abbotsford applied for was denied earlier this month, leaving businesses and residents to wonder what will happen when the next big flood hits. Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens didn’t mince words when he said that a lack of action on flooding amounts to the region being “completely abandoned” by the federal government.

It’s not just Abbotsford and the residents of Fraser Valley who are being abandoned. Flooding in this region comes at an immense cost to Canada. First, there is the hit to food security. We have the responsibility and opportunity to meet global food security needs, while addressing rising food insecurity in our own country. If prime agricultural land is submerged, we can’t do either.

And then there’s the fact that Fraser Valley is a vital transportation corridor for the entire country. The stretch of Highway 1 from Langley to Chilliwack transports more than $65-billion in commercial goods a year as part of the Asia-Pacific Gateway.

Trade accounts for more than two thirds of Canada’s GDP, and our country’s ability to get goods to and from market determines whether we will be competitive in the global economy. But supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link, and ours have been under constant strain due to flooding, wildfires, blockades, the COVID-19 pandemic and repeated labour disruptions, including 35 days of uncertainty and disruption to our West Coast ports at Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which handle more than $800-million worth of cargo per day. Unreliable supply chains influence Canada’s desirability as a trading partner and a place to invest and do business.

The Fraser Valley can’t be that weak link.

Climate change means there will only be more record rainfalls here. The federal government needs to recognize the vital economic importance of Canada’s most productive farmland and act to protect it. Otherwise, Ottawa is abandoning the agricultural heart of B.C. that is a key contributor to Canadian and global food security, as well as a critical link in international supply chains.

Federal investment in infrastructure to combat natural disasters is required to ensure the agricultural region remains productive for generations to come and that Canadians in the Fraser Valley and beyond can still prosper amid the rapidly changing climate.

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