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IN OUR VIEW: Forest fires are a federal issue

Ottawa needs to take the lead on fires coast to coast
The Bald Mountain wildfire in the Grande Prairie, Alberta Forest Area on May 12, 2023. (Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Government of Alberta Fire Service)

Burned out homeowners in the suburbs of Halifax got to see what was left of their houses recently, as some rain and cooler weather helped firefighters get control of a major interface forest fire in Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, fires were raging in parts of Quebec, B.C., Alberta, and Ontario. Smoke is blanketing large parts of the country. It’s the worst spring wildfire season Canada has ever seen.

Across the country, provincial firefighting services rely on a mixture of local recruits, municipal firefighters, aid from overseas, and the Canadian Armed Forces.

We need a national response, and probably a national forest firefighting service.

Unfortunately, things aren’t going to get better. Climate change means that temperatures will keep rising, and even when we get a damp year or two, the dry years will be drier, and more prone to fire.

Plus, in a country as big as Canada, we are likely to see at least one region suffering a bad forest fire season every year, and in some years – like this one – it’ll be awful coast to coast.

A national forest firefighting service would have to be well staffed, well equipped, and mobile. It would need to be able to respond quickly to any region of the country, to supplement local efforts and to bring its own expertise.

Because it would serve the entire country, it wouldn’t be an undue tax burden on any one province. It could also potentially afford to buy and maintain more specialized equipment, like large, new water bombers.

The natural instinct in politics is to pass the buck, and firefighting has long been a provincial jurisdiction.

But fires don’t respect borders, including provincial borders. As they get worse, we’ll need to reconsider how we fight them.

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