QUEEN’S PARK – Kenora Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell was seeking information from Minister of Natural Resources during Question Period in Queen’s Park. The rookie MPP wanted an update on preparations for fighting forest fires in Northwestern Ontario this summer.
Here is the exchange from Queen’s Park:
Ms. Sarah Campbell: To the Minister of Natural Resources: Minister, last year the northwest was devastated by one of the worst fire seasons on record. Many First Nation communities in the Far North were evacuated, and crews had difficulty keeping up.
This year, we have had one of the driest and warmest winters on record. While they have been small in size, a number of fires have already been reported, during a period when temperatures are normally well below zero.
My question is simple: Does the minister have a plan in place for what could be one of the worst fire seasons in our province’s history?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: I appreciate the question. Indeed, last year was a rather extraordinarily difficult forest fire season, almost a record in the northwest. We were very, very proud of the work that was done by our Ministry of Natural Resources staff. Premier McGuinty, in fact, was up in the northwest at the most crucial period of time. We’re grateful for all the work that was done.
May I say, you’re right. We’re very conscious of the challenges that may be faced as a result of the kind of winter that we’ve had—the lack of snow, the lack of rain, even in the warmer temperatures happening. May I assure you that, indeed, our ministry people are not only on the alert; they’re in position to fight the battles as they need to be fought. We’re committed to certainly having the resources that we need. This could not be more important.
May I say also, we learned some good lessons from last year as well, in terms of how we can work with the municipalities and the First Nations communities, indeed, at a very, very difficult time.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Ms. Sarah Campbell: Speaker, my point is this. Last year, we had help. Fire crews from a number of provinces stepped in to help. With warm and dry weather affecting most of Canada, we can’t count on this help this year.
Later today, our provincial budget will be unveiled, and many are projecting across-the-board cuts. Will the minister give his assurances that this department will have the financial resources in place to effectively protect northerners and our vital infrastructure?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: Well, thanks again, and that’s certainly a fair question. Let me assure you that indeed our top staff, in terms of our forest fire management centre, is working ahead of time to make sure that they are ready. We will have aircraft and other obviously important devices in place.
We have agreements, as you would know also, with other jurisdictions in terms of help, if it is needed. We were very grateful for the assistance last year, as we share that with other jurisdictions when our forest fire season is not as bad as last year’s was.
So again, let me provide you with the assurance that I think you’re looking for, that indeed our ministry is prepared, is recognizing that this may be a more challenging season.
I personally am looking forward to getting up to the Dryden fire management centre very, very soon to meet with them. We will be prepared; we will have the resources in place; we will have the aircraft and all the equipment we need to make sure that the forest fire season—