Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, speaking to the media in Kelowna Monday flanked by Admiral Art McDonald of the Canadian Navy, commander of Joint Task Force Pacific (left) and Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Defence minister in Kelowna to thank soldiers for flood relief effort

Harjit Sajjan says not only was military response quick, support from locals has been ‘tremendous’

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan came Kelowna Monday to personally thank the men and women of the Canadian Armed forces currently deployed in the Okanagan and the Grand Forks who are helping with flood relief.

Sajjan, said it was important for him to recognize the work of the 300 men and women in uniform.

“This is about saying thank you to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces for the work they are doing,” Sajjan told reporters outside the Brigadier Angle Armoury following a briefing from military commanders.

The army was called in late last week and within 24 hours of the request from the province to the federal government, were on the ground relieving exhausted B.C. Wildfire crews who had been working to shore up flood precaution measures in communities across the region. During last year’s floods in the Okanagan the army was also called in.

Sajjan said during his briefing Monday he was brought up to speed not only on current local conditions but was also told military commanders are looking ahead to possible future threats, such as forest fires that could spark later this spring or in the summer. He said the government does not put a price tag on the military response, it just does what is needed.

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr, who sat in on the briefing, said he and the minister were told the addition of the armed forces personnel in the areas doubled the capacity for dealing with the response to the rising waters in area lakes and creeks.

The 300 members of the armed forces who have been deployed are part of a 600-person force put together to respond to emergencies such as flooding that is hitting the area.

Lt-Col. Mark Lubiniecki, the Land Task Force Central commander, said the force includes environmental officers, service and supply personnel, command and control officers and reconnaissance officers who go out and assess the condition of roads and bridges given the flooding or impending flooding.

Sajjan said he was very pleased with the response of the military to make it onto the ground in B.C. to lend a hand. And he added the co-operation with local authorities has been very good.

As for the reception the armed forces personnel have received from the public, the minister said it could not be better.

“It’s tough for (soldiers) to buy a cup of coffee because one is always being offered up (by the public),” he said. “There has been an tremendous outpouring of support by the citizens.”

Following the briefing in Kelowna, Sajjan was taken to the Green Bay area of West Kelowna where many of the soldiers deployed in the Central Okanagan are currently working. Later in the day, he was also slated to visit the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre and the base in Vernon where the military response is being staged out.

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