Wildfire evacuees should be gov't top priority, Clark says

On her first day as leader of the opposition, B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark decided to spend it with Cariboo wildfire evacuees in Prince George.

The former premier made her rounds talking to the many evacuees at the Emergency Reception Centre at CNC.

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"I want to meet with the evacuees and find out what we need to be doing for them. How are they feeling? Most of all, I want them to know that they are supported," Clark said.

"We will do everything we can to support them. These people are displaced with an uncertain future but I noticed in Kamloops yesterday, that people were comforted in knowing that others care."

Evacuee numbers continue to climb in Prince George with about 8,372 currently registered.

The number of evacuees in group lodging at CNC and the Northern Sport Centre is steady at about 700.

Those staying in RVs is just under 900 and more than 4,500 evacuees have found accommodation in private homes while 750 are in commercial lodging.

Evacuees in Prince George have received more than $1 million worth of grocery vouchers through the support of Emergency Management B.C. and the Emergency Reception Centre at CNC.

But Clark says much more needs to be done.

With NDP leader John Horgan taking on the role of premier on Tuesday during a province-wide state of emergency, Clark was hopeful that the new government would double the $100 million fund for evacuees and communities affected by the wildfires, a fund which was to be one of her last commitments as premier.

On Wednesday, Horgan did increase funds for communities, from $600 per household to another $600 for every 14 days people are out of their homes.

The provincial state of emergency was also extended by two weeks, allowing fire and emergency workers, law enforcement and government authorities the time and resources needed to deal with wildfires and evacuations (see story, page 8).

"I think this is necessary," Clark said.

"We have 45,000 people who have been evacuated. So they are going to need more help and the right idea is to extend the state of emergency fund.

"We need to support ranchers who have lost their livelihood and to support people who have lost their homes. We have to be able to support them."

Horgan has also recently set out a list of priorities highlighting softwood, education and the fentanyl crisis.

"Government always has lots and lots of priorities and all I can say is that my priority as leader of the opposition is to make sure we are dealing with this crisis right now because 45,000 people have been evacuated. People are worried about losing their homes and losing their jobs. I'm here because I want to talk to people and fight for what it is they need," Clark said.

In her new role, Clark is determined to stay focused on what's most important now.

"We are waiting to see how Horgan will set up his cabinet. I had people in Prince George ask me today saying 'Christy, what happened? How is it that you won the election but you are not in government?' But this is the way a democracy works and I know we have a big job to do in holding the government to account. People are counting on us to do that. We did get the most votes than anybody else so we need to represent those voters in the province in ensuring the government has the right priorities and spending taxpayers money well by looking after citizens first," she said.

"It's one thing to get power but once you get it, it's not just about having it but using it wisely to the best interest of people and citizens and we are going to make sure they do that."

To help with the state of emergency, Clark has asked Horgan to keep in regular contact with all MLAs by holding daily briefings and by identifying a deputy from Horgan's office who can regularly deal with MLAs.

"We need to work on the concerns in all communities. I offered help from our caucus on a daily basis to make sure we are bringing information into the communities but most importantly, we need to be able to take information out of the communities to Victoria." That's what I have been doing. Everyone just calls me on my cell and I get it done. I hope Horgan sticks with that because it works."

Horgan has not made any plans to visit Prince George evacuees as of yet.

"I was in Lake Country on Monday, Kamloops on Tuesday and I'm here today," Clark said.

"My job has changed from being premier to being leader of the opposition but I still really care about these people.

"I still care about making sure that people know we are here to help and that we are doing absolutely everything we can. The fact that I care is one thing that hasn't changed."

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