First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Premier John Horgan and Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee speak to reporters in Prince George after touring forest fires, Aug. 21, 2018. (B.C. government)

B.C. VIEWS: John Horgan’s latest reality check on wildfire threat

‘New normal’ is not a solution, just an empty sound bite

It’s striking what a shift from opposition to government can do for a politician’s understanding of the world. Premier John Horgan demonstrated this again during his obligatory television tour with federal politicians in fire-ravaged northern B.C. last week.

As usual, hurried reporter questions set the agenda, after Horgan expressed his sincere appreciation for the hard-working people on the ground who were briefly interrupted by his visit.

Since everything has to fit into 10-second sound bites these days, we got the usual nonsense about how the arbitrary B.C. budget line item for wildfire control is far below the amount actually spent in dry summers like this year and last year. Would an accounting change help? No.

Then there was the ritual invocation of the “new normal,” this year’s buzzword for increasing fires and smoke. Forest researchers have objected to this latest bit of political shorthand, since it incorrectly implies that nothing can be done and next year will be the same.

Having just come from a briefing by the province’s forest fire experts, Horgan took the opportunity to change the subject to what can be done.

“Over the decades, I don’t want to blame anyone, but we have not been cleaning our forests,” Horgan said. “There is too much fuel being left behind, and we need to address that.”

In fact, “we” can’t clean our vast forests. Nature is now rebalancing the massive fuel load built up by our 60-year post-World War II ‘war on forest fires,’ which stopped the natural fires that had cleaned our Interior forests every 15 years or so. Smoke-filled summer skies are one result.

RELATED: B.C. wildfires used to be much more common

Horgan referred to the B.C. government study on last year’s devastating fire season, headed by former forests minister George Abbott and Sto:lo Nation leader Maureen Chapman. They noted that a 2017 audit of forest fire prevention efforts estimated fuel reduction was done or planned for 110 square kilometres of interface forest around communities. That’s a small fraction of what is needed.

Horgan pleaded that he has been in government 13 months and this is his second state of emergency, crisis management leaving little time for prevention work. “We need to be ready to go when the rains come to prepare for next year,” he said.

Media sound bite three was whether a B.C. natural gas export industry can proceed without increasing B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions. Horgan has already undergone a reality check on this, having embraced the former government’s logic that natural gas to Asia is better than more coal plants, hundreds of which continue to be built in China alone.

“We have to manage our greenhouse gas emission profile,” Horgan said, borrowing another empty phrase from his environment minister before addressing reality. “We also have to remember we’re 4.5 million people here in B.C. on a planet of 7.5 billion. So we have to be realistic about what our impacts would be of the actions we take in British Columbia.”

Abbott and Chapman’s recommendations included more use of preventive burning in lower-risk conditions, and changes to forest land use such as protecting views around communities and highways. In some cases they echo the report done by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon after the damaging Okanagan fires of 2003.

It’s been 14 years since Filmon pointed out the fuel buildup means “there will be more significant and severe wildfires, and there will be more interface fires, unless action is taken.”

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturebc wildfires

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Local liquor store raising funds for food bank

On May 30, a portion of sales at JAK’s Beer Wine & Spirits will be donated to the food bank

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

City of Campbell River re-opening most park amenities and outdoor washrooms

Splash park, playgrounds, sports fields, outdoor volleyball courts, indoor facilities not yet

First Nation’s guardians ‘take matters into their own hands’ and organize environmental clean-up

Mamalilikulla guardians step up to clear abandoned boats after no response from natural resource officers

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Mirror business directory and map

If you’d like to be added to the list, shoot us an email

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Most Read