Comments by Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone in the B.C. Legislature on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021 during debate on a motion by Cariboo-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Lorne Doerkson that “this House recognize the lessons learned from this year’s historic wildfire season and implement them to better prepare our response to future wildfires and needed post-wildfire recovery.”
T. Stone: I appreciate the opportunity to get up today and speak to the motion that my colleague from Cariboo-Chilcotin has brought forward. I think this is a very, very important discussion and debate for us to have.
Frankly, this conversation should take place within the confines of a more formal process, like an all-party committee or a review or some independent analysis and review of what actually transpired in this most recent fire season, with the goal of actually implementing the kinds of changes that are needed.
Now, I’m going to say thank you to all of the firefighters and everybody that was involved in emergency operations centres — all first responders, everyone that is involved in recovery efforts, and so forth. I think everyone in this House thanks everyone for the incredible work they have done. There’s no dispute there.
I think everyone in this House acknowledges the significance, the severity and the frequency of the fires that are taking place with greater regularity. There’s no dispute there.
I do, however, believe that there is a disconnect that exists within the government with respect to the impacts of these fires on the communities where they hit, the impacts on the people in these communities.
We can talk about mitigation, and that’s an entirely different but very important conversation to have. I don’t have enough time to get into that today. There are all kinds of things that we could talk about in terms of how to better manage our forest lands with wildfires in mind. The FireSmart programs like in Logan Lake — an excellent example of the kinds of investments we need to see on a massive scale to better fireproof communities around the province.
But I want to talk about response and recovery. We have got to change how we do what we do in this province when it comes to preparing for, fighting and recovering from wildfires. We have seen in 2017, the wildfires of 2018 and now the wildfires of 2021 just how devastating wildfires are on our communities and our people. We need to take a look at everything. We need to look at how we declare states of emergency in this province and the impact that that has not just on operational realities when it’s declared but the morale boost that that provides for communities that are under siege by wildfires.
We need to take a long, hard look at the resources that are made available. There is a lack of resources that are available to fight fires in this province. That was evident, crystal clear in this particular season — these particular wildfire months that we just went through. The government has to take a long, hard look at that. We have to listen to the people in these local areas. We have to leverage that local knowledge in a way that has never been done before.
When I stand up and say I’m going to fight for the people in Monte Lake and Paxton Valley, it’s not to say that I encourage people to stay behind fire lines, that I encourage people to risk their lives, that I encourage people not to follow evacuation orders. But it is to say that there is a total lack of understanding on the other side as to what would motivate someone to actually stay behind. They’re motivated to stay behind because the government resources that were promised to them — in Monte Lake, as an example, or Paxton Valley — didn’t arrive. They weren’t there. These are the locals that are telling us this.
I believe the locals. It’s not one person or five people or ten people. It is the entire communities. When you have everything invested in your land, you have everything invested in your equipment and your infrastructure and your animals and your house, you’re darned right people are going to want to do everything they can to fight it. First and foremost, they’re going to welcome the government resources when they arrive, and they’re going to get out of the way. Or, they’re going to stay behind, and they’re going to fight to protect what is theirs if those government resources don’t arrive.
There is inherent in that lesson a very important thing we need to learn about how we manage these fires moving forward. The allocation of resources. The engagement, or lack thereof, with the private sector. Story after story after story of contractors that were not engaged. The B.C. Wildfire Service, in leaked memos, actually confirming that that is the case. There weren’t enough resources.
It’s time for the government to listen. It is time for the government to engage. It is time for the government to make serious changes to better protect people and communities in the years ahead with respect to wildfires.
Source: BC Hansard.