With more than 400 wildfires burning across the country, South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings has made an “urgent call” for the federal government to change its approach in how it responds to the blazes.
An emergency debate was prompted in the House of Commons on Monday night, June 5, after Cannings requested to speak on the situation that’s seen 3.6 million hectares of forest torched from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia since the beginning of last month.
He says local and provincial first responders are overwhelmed and that it’s time for the federal government to have an increased role in wildfire management.
“Today for the first time in my eight years as an MP, I woke to smoky skies in Ottawa,” Cannings said. “It’s a sight I know only too well my home in British Columbia.
“First, we need to train and maintain groups of firefighters that will help us attack wildfires rapidly before they explode out of control. Second, we need to maintain a national stockpile of equipment that can be quickly sent to affected provinces.”
Cannings’ comments in the House of Commons were met with heartfelt stories from other MPs related to the impacts of recent wildfires in their respective ridings.
In an interview on Wednesday with Black Press Media, Cannings said the federal government needs to have more of a “hands-on approach” in its response to wildfire in the coming weeks.
That includes shifting equipment and personnel to high-risk parts of the country and the deployment of water bombers.
Although he acknowledged the Canadian Armed Forces has responded to blazes across the country, he also says it’s time for a special federal force dedicated to fighting fires.
“We have to be more proactive,” Cannings said. “The government has heard what I have to say…it may be too late to do a lot of these big things before the hot dry summer of July hits but there are things we should be doing throughout the year.”
The local MP and Penticton resident said his fellow elected officials who aren’t from B.C. have expressed shock this week over the smoky skies that can be seen in Ottawa.
Although he acknowledges the federal government is currently active in responding to the hundreds of blazes, Cannings believes it’s time for a change in approach.
“I’m not saying we’re doing nothing, but I think it’s clear we have to look again and do things in a more serious coordinated planned fashion in the future,” he said.