OP/ED: From the Hill: Supporting Our Firefighters

Dick Cannings MP
By Dick Cannings MP
April 30th, 2024

It was rejuvenating to spend this past week home in the South Okanagan, but also disheartening to see only a glimpse of the April showers we so desperately needed. Between community events I managed to combine some family time with some much-needed yard maintenance and could not help but be worried as I looked over the parched valley and thought of the experts warning that a long, dry fire season is well on its way.

With record-low snowpack and persisting drought conditions, the challenges we’ll face this summer will be significant. Indeed, dozens of fires have already sparked around the province. The investments and workforce we’ll need to combat this fire season will no doubt break records yet again.

Back in Ottawa, just before this past break week, the NDP celebrated a small but important victory towards ensuring we can recruit and retain the firefighters we will need. Of Canada’s 126,000 firefighters, more than 90,000 are volunteers, many of whom work in rural fire halls. However, Canada is facing a volunteer firefighter and search and rescue shortage.

Past summers have shown us how devastating wildfires can be with communities having to evacuate and people fleeing their homes. Volunteer firefighters and search and rescue responders were at the front of this nationwide emergency – and many had to go on leave from their jobs to do it. Being a volunteer firefighter is entirely at one’s own expense, and with rising costs, one can understand how retaining this workforce is difficult.

In response my NDP colleague Gord Johns worked with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association to bring forward a bill to help volunteer firefighters and search and rescue teams increase the volunteer firefighter and search and rescue income tax credit.

Earlier this month, the NDP was successful at having the government confirm an income tax credit increase for volunteer firefighters and search and rescue personnel, upping the credit from $3,000 to $6,000 this year.

Firefighters are integral to protecting our environment and keeping our communities safe and our federal government needs to step up and stop downloading this increasingly important and significant expense on provinces and local governments.

We need to support the thousands of volunteer firefighters across Canada, and we need a national wildfire fighting force to augment the local and provincial teams that have been overwhelmed, a well-trained force that could be deployed quickly wherever needed.

Recent Abacus polling indicates that 74% of Canadians support the creation of a new national wildfire fighting force to be employed full time to fight, prevent and mitigate the billions of dollars in damage to our communities and local economies. A force that could work in concert with new provincial fire forecasting services to deploy to regions in anticipation of significant fire behaviour and prevent devastation.

Despite record provincial investments, it was clear last summer that Canada’s wildfire response was overwhelmed. Waiting for help from overseas costs valuable time and money. Nor is it sustainable for us to use the Canadian military every year. If we had trained national force, we could use them pre-emptively instead of reactively like we tend to do now.

It would bring Canada in line with similar fire-impacted countries, such as Australia. It could reduce financial and staffing stress on regional wildfire services and increase the efficiency by which provinces can respond quickly to new fires.

We need a national approach now. Our planet is warning us that we are in uncharted territory and must act with the urgency and strength that this catastrophe demands.

I want to thank all the firefighting crews on land and in the air for the difficult and courageous work they have undertaken to keep all of us safe. In our cities, our professional firefighters are stepping up and offering their already over-worked and under-staffed departmental support to wildfire season.

It is past time for us to recognize and respect this life and community saving profession. Let’s truly thank our firefighters by creating the supports they need to keep themselves and our communities safe.

Our new climate reality is something we’ll have to live with in the decades and centuries to come. Let’s get prepared for it.

Categories: GeneralOp/EdPolitics

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