Question Period: Wildfire Management

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

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Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau Quebec

Hon. Andrew Cardozo: My question is for the Government Representative concerning the wildfires. I want to compliment the federal and provincial governments for responding to the needs of Canadians facing the tragic consequences of wildfires in many parts of the country. This is the time when governments have to step up to the plate and literally throw all the resources possible to help Canadians.

If it means considerable deficit spending, I hope we’re all in agreement that this is essential.

Senator, could you share with us the services that have been provided, whether through Emergency Preparedness via Public Safety Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces or elsewhere, and is there any sense of how much the federal government is prepared to spend over the course of the summer on this likely continuing tragedy?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. I think it is fair to say that what we’re witnessing now is something that we are going to be confronted with increasingly due to climate change. The government is in close contact with all affected provinces and territories, and has deployed Canadian Armed Forces and other federal supports to Quebec, Nova Scotia and Alberta, at the request of those provinces.

Senator, it’s too early to say what the final costs might be because the focus right now is on assisting. There are 400-plus wildfires of which I think over 200 are still not under control. We know that the damage in many communities has been very significant. For example, as fires get under control in the area around Halifax, according to a family living there with whom I’m in contact, it has become safe to re-enter the community but we’re seeing the devastating images there and elsewhere of what has happened with homes burnt and areas ravaged.

When the cost to respond and recover from a disaster exceeds provincial or territorial capacity, as colleagues should know, the government provides fair and equitable assistance to the disaster financial assistance arrangements, which has provided almost $8 billion in support to provinces and territories over the years. The government can cover up to 90% of eligible costs. But provinces and territories, as we know, are in full control of the design and delivery of these recovery plans. Provinces and territories may request advance payments or interim payments to address early requirements of recovery, the need to rebuild and additional allocations for projects that include those enhancements to mitigate the impacts of such disasters in the future.

Senator Cardozo: I would press you further on the matter of climate change that you mentioned, senator. What is the government doing to address these fires from a longer-term perspective — the environmental perspective — given that this could go on all summer, or maybe become the norm every summer or even every spring, summer and fall? How much more do we need to be doing about the environment and climate change?

Senator Gold: It’s a very large question. I’ll answer it briefly. The government has made it clear ever since it ran for office and was elected in 2015 that addressing climate change is a serious priority of this government, as it should be, for the country as a whole. It’s put into place a panoply of measures, all designed to work towards reducing climate change, helping create a more resilient infrastructure and economy and help us transition away from a carbon-reliant power grid and other measures so that our economy can continue to grow, but also mitigate and ultimately, we hope, reverse the impact of climate change.

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