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

Best of the City: Breathe easy

Modo Yoga wins Best Yoga Studio category during challenging time for health and wellness businesses

Best of the City: How sweet it is

Burnt Honey Dessert Company serves up city’s favourite desserts

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Help keep customer service workers safe

Remember that people asking you to respect health guidelines are still people, says retail worker

Best of the City: Making a house a home

Dodd’s Furniture, voted Best Furniture Store, settles into new location in Nanaimo

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

Best of the City: This year’s winners

Nanaimo News Bulletin presents full results of our 2020 Best of the City readers’ survey

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Snuneymuxw artist brings aquatic designs to Nanaimo’s Beban Park pool

Work by artist Eliot White-Hill is being installed at the pool this month

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read