It’s wildfire season again. How prepared is our government to protect us?
The Sask Dispatch asked the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU), which represents firefighters in the province.
“Despite small funding hikes over the past four years, the budget this year is only three-quarters of what it was in 2007-08,” says Lori Bossaer, acting chair of SGEU’s Public Service/Government Employment Negotiating Committee.
“Inadequate funding makes it more difficult to fight wildfires and protect land and people in Saskatchewan.”
“Annual funding for wildfire operations has climbed somewhat since the disastrous wildfire season in 2015. The wildfire operations budget that year was $49.9 million; as of the 2019-20 budget it has been increased by about 8 [per cent], to $53.7 million. However, that is still far less than the funding levels that were provided in previous years. The budgets for wildfire operations declined steadily from 2009-10 to 2015-16, and have increased only slightly since.”
“Inadequate funding makes it more difficult to fight wildfires and protect land and people in Saskatchewan, but it is not the only factor involved in the deterioration of services in this area,” Bossaer explains. “The government[‘s] decision to cut the size of firefighting initial attack crews from five members to four, originally announced in the 2012-13 budget, also remains in effect and reduces the ability to fight and contain fires in their earliest stages before they spread.”
The government also continues to use a fitness test for wildland firefighters that the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal found to be discriminatory, even after the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied.
Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, and other parts of the province saw their driest spring on record this year. And as researchers in Saskatchewan and Alberta have been reporting, climate change is in part driving the trend. As wildfires become more frequent and serious, what is our government going to do about it?