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One year after Victoria’s hottest day on record, here’s what’s changed—and what hasn’t

From death tolls, to heat alert systems, to calls for further policy changes

By Martin Bauman
June 27, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

One year after Victoria’s hottest day on record, here’s what’s changed—and what hasn’t

From death tolls, to heat alert systems, to calls for further policy changes

By Martin Bauman
Jun 27, 2022
A Victoria man cools his dog off in the ocean on June 28, 2021. Photo: Colin Smith / Capital Daily
A Victoria man cools his dog off in the ocean on June 28, 2021. Photo: Colin Smith / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

One year after Victoria’s hottest day on record, here’s what’s changed—and what hasn’t

From death tolls, to heat alert systems, to calls for further policy changes

By Martin Bauman
June 27, 2022
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One year after Victoria’s hottest day on record, here’s what’s changed—and what hasn’t
A Victoria man cools his dog off in the ocean on June 28, 2021. Photo: Colin Smith / Capital Daily

It was midway through the day on June 28, 2021 when the temperature reading at Victoria’s Gonzales Point hit 39.8 degrees—an all-time high for the station that has kept weather records since 1874.

That day, one year ago, saw seven Island weather stations smash all-time heat records. Temperatures reached 42.7 degrees in Port Alberni. In the Malahat area, the needle climbed to 41.3 degrees—nearly ten degrees more than the previous record (32.4) set in 1995.

It proved to be the hottest day of BC’s deadly 2021 heat dome—a two-week span of sweltering temperatures that killed 619 people in the province, according to the BC Coroners Service report released earlier this month. (South of the border, Washington reported 100 deaths and Oregon tallied 96.) 

As temperatures rose again this week, so too have old questions that remain unanswered: Why did BC fare so much worse than its coastal counterparts in preventing deaths, despite similar temperatures? And what has the province done to ensure a different result when the next heat wave arrives?

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‘They were trying to figure out how to stay alive’

Gabrielle Peters was the lone person with a disability who the coroners service consulted when drafting its recommendations for the province—but you won’t find her name on its final report. 

A policy analyst and member of the Vancouver City Planning Commission, she told Capital Daily her name was removed after the service’s death panel rejected her recommendations: primarily, to provide low-income, vulnerable people with air conditioners this summer.

Peters—and others—have criticized the BC NDP’s approach as paternalistic, placing the onus on residents to seek out help ahead of extreme weather events, rather than providing policy improvements that would support those with mobility issues, or those for whom getting to a cooling centre would prove too expensive or difficult.

“[The province has] decided that people just didn't know that the heat was serious, and they weren't taking it seriously,” she said.

“[But people I spoke to] were trying to figure out the whole time how to stay alive.”

Victorians seek out shade at Beacon Hill Park on June 28, 2021. Photo: Colin Smith / Capital Daily

Air conditioning also a concern within BC Housing

One unanswered question surrounds BC Housing’s policy with respect to heat pumps in provincially-run housing units. A 2017 review of heat pump retrofits in multi-unit residential buildings indicated that BC Housing disabled the cooling function on its heat pumps because of tenants “abus[ing]” the system on days that fell below 27 degrees Celsius.

What isn’t clear in the report is whether BC Housing has since changed its policies. Capital Daily reached out to BC Housing for comment, but did not receive a reply before publication.

Heat alert system draws criticism

Among the greatest differences between last summer and this summer is the province’s newest tool: the BC Heat Alert and Response System (BC HARS). Designed to broadcast mobile alerts in advance of heat events—akin to tsunami or wildfire warnings—the system was announced with gusto by public safety minister Mike Farnworth earlier this month, but its reception was decidedly less enthusiastic

Farnworth billed BC HARS as one step “to ensure [we’re] prepared for more of these events in the future,” but stopped short of proposing further solutions when pressed by reporters for what policy changes the government would consider to protect its most vulnerable residents.

“This is still very much a tool for the toolbox; this is not the silver bullet by itself,” he said.

Relief on the way

The high temperatures felt over the weekend and into yesterday show signs of abating as thunderstorms arrive Tuesday. The day’s forecasted high of 20 degrees and overnight low of 13 lead into more predicted rain on Wednesday and forecasted highs in the low 20s for the rest of the week.

With files from Brishti Basu

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Martin Bauman
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