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B.C.’s wildfire travel ban was ‘ineffective, unnecessary’: Penticton Chamber

Local group pens letter to province ahead of 2024 wildfire season
Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma, left, and B.C. Premier David Eby walk together as they arrive for a meeting at the Columbia Shuswap Regional District offices, in Salmon Arm, B.C., Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The Penticton Chamber of Commerce urged the B.C. government in a letter this week to be more “transparent” during wildfire season after the province issued a travel advisory last August that preceded the cancellation of several events and millions lost in tourism dollars.

Bowinn Ma, the province’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, was put on notice in the letter for helping order a travel advisory based on “incomplete data,” which restricted non-essential trips to the communities of Kelowna, Kamloops, Oliver, Osoyoos, Penticton and Vernon. It came as crews were fighting the more than 13,900-hectare McDougall Creek wildfire in West Kelowna.

The advisory was issued Aug. 19 and lifted four days later. It prompted the cancellation of several events, including Penticton Ironman, which was supposed to start on Aug. 27.

“Unfortunately, even though the ban only lasted four short days, the economic devastation to Penticton and the South Okanagan’s economy was complete, including the cancellation of the world-renowned Ironman Triathlon which historically generates $15 million in economic activity, as well as the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost hotel, winery, campground, and tourism operator revenues throughout the South Okanagan during the height of our tourist season,” the letter reads.

The Penticton Chamber asked Ma in its letter to use real-time information provided by local governments and emergency centres before taking action.

Travel advisories were issued across the province with the intent of opening up hotel spaces for evacuees. The local chamber, however, claims there was no consultation with Penticton’s local government, tourism association, hoteliers, or public agencies before the advisory was issued.

“It was later determined that outside of West Kelowna, the ban was unnecessary and rescinded only four days later after you and [B.C.] Premier Eby personally visited our evacuation centres only to find them all but empty,” the letter continues.

“Approximately 65 per cent of West Kelowna residents work in Kelowna which is north-east of West Kelowna, making it even more perplexing as to why the travel ban encompassed an area so far to the south.”

Leaders from the chamber said they hope the province will take a more balanced and data-driven approach when emergencies coincide with Penticton’s peak tourism season.

“If anyone from [Ma’s] ministry had first taken the small step of contacting our municipal government, they would have learned that spaces already available for evacuees were all but empty and should have made them question if ordering such a drastic measure in Penticton and throughout the South Okanagan was necessary,” said Michael Magnusson, the Penticton Chamber’s executive director.

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About the Author: Logan Lockhart

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