Trudeau’s description of Lytton, B.C. during climate summit draws ire of local residents

Denise O’Connor and other residents of Lytton, B.C., say they weren’t impressed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national statement at the COP26 climate summit.

On Nov. 1, Trudeau referenced the fire that destroyed the small Fraser Valley village over the summer to illustrate the impact of climate change. 

“In Canada, there was a town called Lytton. I say ‘was’ because on June 30, it burned to the ground. The day before, the temperature had hit 49.6 C, the hottest ever recorded in our country. Canada is warming, on average, twice as quickly as the rest of the world.”

“The science is clear: we must do more, and faster,” said Trudeau.

Lytton, a village of less than 300 residents before the fire, is currently being rebuilt. Just last month, the municipal government unveiled its plan for Lytton’s short-term recovery, which includes temporary emergency housing for returning residents. 

Two days after Trudeau’s speech, O’Connor and fellow members of the Lytton Chamber of Commerce’s business recovery steering committee sent him a letter to voice their frustration.

“To hear you, Prime Minister, refer to our town in the past tense … breaks our hearts,” they said in the letter. “The town of Lytton still exists — it exists in the hearts and minds of every resident and every business.”

The committee members also complained about what they say is Ottawa’s lack of support for Lytton.

“We have been treated as non-existent — we have seen no assistance from the federal government in helping us get back to our homes.”

The town of Lytton, B.C., photographed from a hillside on Oct. 29, 2021. (Brady Strachan)

O’Connor, who lost her home to the fire, says Lytton has received support from the province for rebuilding but none from Ottawa.

“He [Trudeau] is using our name, and yet we haven’t seen anything from the federal government as far as support,” O’Connor said Tuesday to host Sarah Penton on CBC’s Radio West.

“We just heard last night [on Nov. 8] … that we’re not going to be getting a post office — they’re not coming back yet.”

In an emailed statement to CBC, the prime minister’s office did not address the chamber’s complaint about Trudeau’s description of Lytton, but said the federal government has matched every dollar donated to the Canadian Red Cross’s B.C. Wildfires Appeal Fund and will provide further assistance as necessary.

O’Connor also disputes what Trudeau said was the cause of the fire that ravaged Lytton.

“Climate change did not start the fire in Lytton,” she said. “We had [that] record heat. We had strong winds and a spark from the train — and that’s what started the fire, not climate change.”

But on Oct. 14, investigators from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said they have not found evidence that trains running near Lytton were responsible for the fire.

O’Connor now lives in her parents’ house in Lytton, which wasn’t damaged by the blaze.

“Lytton is not a ‘was.’ There are over 30 homes still here with people living in them,” she said. “There are so many people here still, and that’s what the community is. It’s not a ‘was.'”

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