Hurricane Fiona swept through the Canadian Maritime provinces in late September, leaving a path of destruction. Wind gusts were up to 170 km per hour. Roads were washed out. Trees and powerlines were knocked down. Houses were swept out to sea. The storm surge even altered the coastline of the province of Prince Edward Island (PEI).
With 8 of the 27 seats in the provincial legislature, the Greens of PEI are the official opposition to the governing Conservatives. The Green Party is critical of the government’s response to Fiona and lack of preparation to deal with future storms that are expected because of climate change.
Fiona knocked out power to more than half of the 156,000 people in the province as falling trees took down power lines. Weeks later, thousands are still waiting for their power to be restored. PEI Premier Dennis King advises that the government is trying to obtain temporary generators for provincial seniors complexes that do not have power.
PEI Green Party leader, Peter Bevan-Baker, describes the government’s response to the devastation caused by Fiona as “frustratingly slow” and questions why it is taking so long to restore power. The lack of power leaves many homes and businesses without heat or hot water and, in some cases, no running water. Food supplies have been lost, with no power for freezers and refrigerators. With temperatures dropping, Bevan-Baker cautions that “this is a public health and human safety issue.”
Financial disaster relief is being provided through the Red Cross, and the government is responding to urgent requests for clean up assistance. The Green Party urges additional remedial action, calling for regular checks on government-owned seniors buildings. Greens also want financial relief with a refund of at least one month of rent to seniors in public housing and one month of deferring student loan payments.
The government established a wage rebate program to compensate self-employed people who could not work because of the storm. The Greens would expand this program to cover people who lost time from work because childcare facilities were closed and those who could not get to their jobs off the island.
Greens also call for better long-term planning as there will be more storms of this magnitude due to climate change. In a 2019 federal summary of climate science, fossil fuel emissions are blamed for the intensity of tropical storms that form in the southern Atlantic and head north to the Canadian coast. Water temperatures off the Maritimes are said to have increased 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past century, and warmer water results in storms of longer duration and often with wider paths.
Long-term remedial measures should include higher seawalls to protect coastal communities and development being moved further inland. Bevan-Baker complains that PEI, with close to 30,000 undeveloped lots near the coast, still has no province-wide land-use plan that accounts for future storm surges.
The Green Party also urges that power lines should be buried. Privately owned utilities that service PEI reject calls to bury power lines because that “would cost up to 10 times more without eliminating the risk of outages”. Bevan-Baker says these kinds of “standard” answers fail to recognize changing climate realities: “I understand burying lines is an enormously expensive proposition, but so is rebuilding if it’s a storm like this every few years.”