Nearly all Indigenous communities at risk as feds prepare for busy wildfire season

Government boosts wildfire funding as climate risks rise

Officials with a number of federal departments say 2024 will likely be a busy wildfire season because of the climate crisis, and Indigenous communities in particular are at risk.

On Wednesday, a technical briefing was held on the upcoming season ahead of a news conference by various ministers.

Officials stressed that it is important to plan for an anticipated wildfire season, and that there is a high risk due to drought conditions in many parts of the country

“Specific fire activity of course cannot be predicted,” said Harjit Sajjan, minster of emergency preparedness.

The fire season in 2023 was historic with 6,623 fires burning 15 million hectares. Eight firefighters died and 5,500 international firefighters assisted in fighting the wildfires.

According to the federal government, 161 fires took place on or near First nations communities. There is an additional $166 million in funding in the upcoming Liberal budget to support wildfire response and prevention programs for First Nations.

Indigenous communities bore the brunt of much of the evacuations with 82 First Nations communities facing 93 evacuations—some nations have had to evacuate multiple times.

“The First Nations are on the front lines of the climate disaster related to climate change. Nearly 80 per cent of the communities are at risk,” said Patty Hajdu, minister of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) at the news conference.

Hadju said as of last year, ISC began to provide advance payments to some First Nations communities for fighting wildfires.

She said the government had learned from the last wildfire season about the importance of quick action when it comes to payments.

“There are many First Nations that just don’t have the physical capacity to be able to rent equipment or organize a volunteer crew or have rapid evacuations if necessary,” said Hadju.

The federal government has expanded funding to help with this issue. “This year all 40 First Nations in Alberta will have a funded emergency management coordinator position,” said Hadju.

In total there are 248 coordinators across the country to help plan and prepare for the upcoming wildfire season.

Federal government stresses the need to act on climate change

Environment and Climate Change Canada is forecasting above-normal temperatures across the nation after a mild winter and minimal snow cover in most regions.

The ministers at the news conference emphasized that climate change is a serious threat requiring action from all levels of government.

“Research suggests that every dollar invested in preparation can save up to $15 in costs,” said Sajjan “The 2023 wildfire season showed us what the world will be like if we fail to tackle climate change and prepare for increasingly intense burn seasons.

“The immediate priority of any government is to protect lives and livelihoods – and increasingly that starts with recognizing the scientific reality of climate change and investing in measures to mitigate and adapt our changing climate.”

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Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault had scathing words of criticism for conservative premiers across the country and Pierre Polievre. Guilbeault called out New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith by name.

The conservative premiers and Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew have all been outspoken about the federal government’s carbon tax. Still, none of the premiers Guilbeault named have specifically said they oppose it because they do not believe in climate change.

“These people don’t even recognize the existence of climate change, and Pierre Polievre barely does,” said Guiltbeault speaking in French.

Guiltbeault said that the Trudeau government is continuing with a revenue-neutral plan to reach 40 per cent emissions reduction by 2030.

Alberta has declared an early start to the 2024 wildfire season, British Columbia has begun prescribed burns to help prevent out-of-control wildfires and the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) has warned that the province may see an earlier than usual start to the wildfire season.

Research shows that the single biggest contributor to climate change is the burning of fossil fuels.

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