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KINSELLA: Canada makes headlines as wildfires cause poor air quality

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Blame Canada.

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It’s not often that we attract the attention of the American media. The last time we were big news in the U.S., really, was when Justin Trudeau was caught wearing racist blackface.

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That was big, front-page news in the United States. Time magazine broke that story in September 2019, and Reuters called it a scandal, because it surely was. The New York Times called it racist, and it indisputably was.

Donald Trump, then president of the United States, was even asked about it.

Said Trump: “I’m surprised. I was more surprised when I saw the number of times.”

That, really, was the last time we were big news in the United States. Until this week, that is, when wildfires in Canada started to make it hard for Americans to breathe. So, for the first time in years, the media in the U.S. started to paying attention to us.

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The tabloid New York Post, which has an appropriately tabloid-y sense of humour, screamed “BLAME CANADA” across its front page, and “EH!POCALYPSE NOW” below that.

Meanwhile, The Boston Herald sniffed “Thanks, Canada,” and the Dallas Morning News front page declared “U.S. caught in a Canadian haze.”

So, we caught their attention, big time. Hundreds of foreign firefighters started to arrive from South Africa to America. And, as noted, people on the Eastern side of the continent were reported to have the worst air one the planet.

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Watching the foreign firefighters arrive was an emotional experience, at least for this writer. And then, a question occurred: why do we need firefighters from other countries? Canada has enough firefighters of our own, don’t we?

No, we don’t. And all of us are to blame for that – governments, for bad decisions, and voters, for letting them get away with those bad decisions.

A man walks to work wearing a mask near Parliament Hill
A man walks to work wearing a mask near Parliament Hill, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in Ottawa. a mask near Parliament Hill, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in Ottawa. The battle against hundreds of wildfires continued Thursday, as almost every jurisdiction in Canada was under either heat or air quality warnings from the federal government. Photo by Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press

Here’s a summary of Canada’s firefighting capacity and it’s not a pretty picture:

– The Government of Canada provides firefighting funding through different programs. Right now, just Alberta and Nova Scotia are receiving federal assistance and Quebec has applied for it. The Trudeau government has said they want to create a “Centre for Excellence for Wildland Fires,” but they haven’t done that yet. They also want to set up something called “WildFireSat,” to use satellites to track wildfires, but they haven’t done that yet either.

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– In 2021, Ontario budgeted $100 million to fight forest fires but spent $238 million. For years, and under successive governments, the province has been struggling to recruit firefighters. Seven hundred are hired every year, but it’s still (clearly) not enough.

firefighter Kalen MacMullin of Sydney, N.S. works on a fire in Shelburne County, N.S.
Department of Natural Resources and Renewables firefighter Kalen MacMullin of Sydney, N.S. works on a fire in Shelburne County, N.S. in a Thursday, June 1, 2023 handout photo. Photo by handout /THE CANADIAN PRESS

– Quebec has boosted its Public Safety and Fire Prevention budget by $9 million to $86.7 million. But given this week’s events, that’s obviously not enough either. The Quebec government has admitted it only has the resources to fight 30 out of the 160 forest fires that are currently burning. And it only has 240 full-time firefighters.

– Last month, Alberta lost more than two million acres – that’s 1.5 million football fields – to fire. Danielle Smith’s UCP government has made a bad situation worse. Her government cut firefighting programs in 2019, including the Aerial Rapattack rapid response team, and closed 26 of the province’s 127 wildfire lookout towers. More cuts in 2021 resulted in the loss of permanent staff, and Smith has overseen funding drop by $30 million since 2019.

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– British Columbia, however, has spent more – 2022 saw the largest investment in wildfire management in the province’s history, which included a transformation into a year-round service. The NDP government’s 2022 budget included $517 million over three years in new funding, too – which includes $145 million for the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC. The province presently has about 1,100 firefighters.

A wildfire burns near to Centennial Lake, near Matawatchan, Ont., on Sunday, June 4, 2023.
A wildfire burns near to Centennial Lake, near Matawatchan, Ont., on Sunday, June 4, 2023. The wildfire burning around Centennial Lake, about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa, was one of the 21 new fire starts in Ontario since Sunday, said fire advisor Shayne McCool, with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Photo by HO-Mike Coates /THE CANADIAN PRESS

– In Manitoba and Yukon, the firefighting budget went up in 2023. In Saskatchewan, it has gone down. In some Atlantic provinces, like New Brunswick, it’s hard to find information about the true picture. But in Nova Scotia – whose Halifax was literally on fire last month – firefighting spending is down from the previous year. Same in Newfoundland, where the fire suppression budget went down, not up.

All in all, our ability to prevent and fight wildfires is not where it needs to be. With a warming planet, the situation is obviously going to get a lot worse, and we’re just not ready.

Yes, some provinces (Ontario, British Columbia) are spending more. Yes, some provinces (Alberta, Nova Scotia) are foolishly spending less. And, across the board, we don’t have enough firefighters.

But, this week, we have caught the attention of the world – and not in a good way.

Time to make some changes, Canada. The future is coming, and it’s going to be a hot one.

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Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Join the Conversation

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Article content

Blame Canada.

Advertisement 2

Article content

It’s not often that we attract the attention of the American media. The last time we were big news in the U.S., really, was when Justin Trudeau was caught wearing racist blackface.

Article content

That was big, front-page news in the United States. Time magazine broke that story in September 2019, and Reuters called it a scandal, because it surely was. The New York Times called it racist, and it indisputably was.

Donald Trump, then president of the United States, was even asked about it.

Said Trump: “I’m surprised. I was more surprised when I saw the number of times.”

That, really, was the last time we were big news in the United States. Until this week, that is, when wildfires in Canada started to make it hard for Americans to breathe. So, for the first time in years, the media in the U.S. started to paying attention to us.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

The tabloid New York Post, which has an appropriately tabloid-y sense of humour, screamed “BLAME CANADA” across its front page, and “EH!POCALYPSE NOW” below that.

Meanwhile, The Boston Herald sniffed “Thanks, Canada,” and the Dallas Morning News front page declared “U.S. caught in a Canadian haze.”

So, we caught their attention, big time. Hundreds of foreign firefighters started to arrive from South Africa to America. And, as noted, people on the Eastern side of the continent were reported to have the worst air one the planet.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Watching the foreign firefighters arrive was an emotional experience, at least for this writer. And then, a question occurred: why do we need firefighters from other countries? Canada has enough firefighters of our own, don’t we?

No, we don’t. And all of us are to blame for that – governments, for bad decisions, and voters, for letting them get away with those bad decisions.

A man walks to work wearing a mask near Parliament Hill
A man walks to work wearing a mask near Parliament Hill, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in Ottawa. a mask near Parliament Hill, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in Ottawa. The battle against hundreds of wildfires continued Thursday, as almost every jurisdiction in Canada was under either heat or air quality warnings from the federal government. Photo by Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press

Here’s a summary of Canada’s firefighting capacity and it’s not a pretty picture:

– The Government of Canada provides firefighting funding through different programs. Right now, just Alberta and Nova Scotia are receiving federal assistance and Quebec has applied for it. The Trudeau government has said they want to create a “Centre for Excellence for Wildland Fires,” but they haven’t done that yet. They also want to set up something called “WildFireSat,” to use satellites to track wildfires, but they haven’t done that yet either.

Advertisement 5

Article content

– In 2021, Ontario budgeted $100 million to fight forest fires but spent $238 million. For years, and under successive governments, the province has been struggling to recruit firefighters. Seven hundred are hired every year, but it’s still (clearly) not enough.

firefighter Kalen MacMullin of Sydney, N.S. works on a fire in Shelburne County, N.S.
Department of Natural Resources and Renewables firefighter Kalen MacMullin of Sydney, N.S. works on a fire in Shelburne County, N.S. in a Thursday, June 1, 2023 handout photo. Photo by handout /THE CANADIAN PRESS

– Quebec has boosted its Public Safety and Fire Prevention budget by $9 million to $86.7 million. But given this week’s events, that’s obviously not enough either. The Quebec government has admitted it only has the resources to fight 30 out of the 160 forest fires that are currently burning. And it only has 240 full-time firefighters.

– Last month, Alberta lost more than two million acres – that’s 1.5 million football fields – to fire. Danielle Smith’s UCP government has made a bad situation worse. Her government cut firefighting programs in 2019, including the Aerial Rapattack rapid response team, and closed 26 of the province’s 127 wildfire lookout towers. More cuts in 2021 resulted in the loss of permanent staff, and Smith has overseen funding drop by $30 million since 2019.

Advertisement 6

Article content

– British Columbia, however, has spent more – 2022 saw the largest investment in wildfire management in the province’s history, which included a transformation into a year-round service. The NDP government’s 2022 budget included $517 million over three years in new funding, too – which includes $145 million for the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC. The province presently has about 1,100 firefighters.

A wildfire burns near to Centennial Lake, near Matawatchan, Ont., on Sunday, June 4, 2023.
A wildfire burns near to Centennial Lake, near Matawatchan, Ont., on Sunday, June 4, 2023. The wildfire burning around Centennial Lake, about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa, was one of the 21 new fire starts in Ontario since Sunday, said fire advisor Shayne McCool, with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Photo by HO-Mike Coates /THE CANADIAN PRESS

– In Manitoba and Yukon, the firefighting budget went up in 2023. In Saskatchewan, it has gone down. In some Atlantic provinces, like New Brunswick, it’s hard to find information about the true picture. But in Nova Scotia – whose Halifax was literally on fire last month – firefighting spending is down from the previous year. Same in Newfoundland, where the fire suppression budget went down, not up.

All in all, our ability to prevent and fight wildfires is not where it needs to be. With a warming planet, the situation is obviously going to get a lot worse, and we’re just not ready.

Yes, some provinces (Ontario, British Columbia) are spending more. Yes, some provinces (Alberta, Nova Scotia) are foolishly spending less. And, across the board, we don’t have enough firefighters.

But, this week, we have caught the attention of the world – and not in a good way.

Time to make some changes, Canada. The future is coming, and it’s going to be a hot one.

Article content

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Join the Conversation

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