Canada’s record-setting wildfire season is spurring Ottawa to consider how to tackle future fires, floods, or earthquakes, as officials warn that this year’s fires may continue into the winter.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said Thursday that could mean a more national approach to disaster response, as the government announced C$65 million in federal funding for wildfire response in six provinces and territories, The Canadian Press reports.
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“We’re looking at all different types of disasters, doing the lessons learned, and we’ll come out with the appropriate response,” Sajjan said at a news conference that included several other federal cabinet ministers and MPs.
“I would say all options are currently on the table, but we don’t have an answer for you yet,” the minister said, responding to a question about Canada forming a national force to battle wildfires.
“We’re looking at wildfires, yes, but we also need to look at floods. We also need to be ready for potential earthquakes.”
Firefighting is largely a provincial responsibility but provinces have requested federal help from the Canadian Armed Forces and elsewhere this wildfire season. They also put out the call to thousands of international firefighters from countries including the United States, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.
Earlier this week, a former Canadian army commander said lives will be at risk if the country doesn’t develop a rapid response force devoted to climate disasters. Retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who served as a federal Liberal MP from 2015 to 2019, tied that call to the current push for a major increase in the country’s military spending.
“The impact of climate change is irrefutable — it poses dangers to us all,” Leslie told CBC. “What has the current government done to prepare for what they knew was coming?
“The answer is nothing. They continue to go to the armed forces and allocate troops and resources in penny packets, in dribs and drabs, more for the political optics.”
The latest federal government forecast said Canada’s already unprecedented 2023 wildfire season could continue late into the fall or winter, CP writes.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said there is potential for increased wildland fire activity from eastern Alberta through to central Ontario at least until the end of this month, while fires in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories will continue to smoulder.
“Indeed, despite the arrival of cooler night temperatures and decreases in lightning activity in the fall, ongoing warm and dry weather may contribute to new fire starts, and there remains a likelihood that some existing fires may continue to be active through September and possibly later into autumn or even winter,” Wilkinson said.
Of the six provinces and territories in line for more wildfire funding—B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Yukon, and the NWT—Wilkinson said B.C. and the NWT have signed deals to receive their full allotments, amounting to $28.5 million for the territory and $32 million for B.C. over five years.
The federal government’s Fighting and Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate fund will provide $256 million to provinces and territories through to 2027, Wilkinson added. He said the “big picture” facing Canada is that wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense.
“The science is clear, the root cause of this is climate change,” Wilkinson said.
This week, a new paper in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment tracks an “abrupt, climate-induced” increase in B.C. wildfires since the mid-2000s, with four of the last century’s most severe seasons occurring in the last seven years. “With four wildfire blowup seasons (2017, 2018, 2021, and 2023) in seven years—and associated destruction, threats, and hardship to human and ecological communities—B.C. now appears to have arrived at its place as a hotspot for catastrophic wildfire losses, along with Australia, the western U.S., and the Mediterranean Basin,” the paper states. British Columbians “are now confronted with a harsh reality of more frequent years of intense and prolonged wildfire activity,” and “there is no indication that an upward trend in climate-induced wildfire potential will stabilize in the near future.”
Sajjan said climate change has been having a significant impact across Canada, and preparing for more natural disasters is necessary.
“I’ve been talking to various community leaders, mayors in B.C. and across the country, when it comes to emergency preparedness,” he said. “We will be talking to many other countries on how their system works, whether it’s systems in the U.S., UK, (or) Japan.”
Wilkinson said the Natural Resources Canada fund will allow provinces and territories to cost-share investments for training and equipment, including vehicles, mobile units, and new technology.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 7, 2023.