FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Vancouver, B.C. – Today, BC United Leader Kevin Falcon unveiled a comprehensive blueprint for reforming British Columbia’s wildfire preparedness, response, and recovery strategies.
“The NDP’s approach to wildfire management has been marked by inaction and crippling bureaucratic delays. We’ve seen devastating wildfire seasons year after year, with record-breaking destruction and economic losses — it’s time for a new approach,” said Kevin Falcon, BC United Leader.
“BC United is proposing a radical shift — a modernized firefighting service, utilizing local expertise, empowered response teams, better support for evacuees, and proactive forest management. We can’t afford to wait any longer. It’s time for decisive action to protect our communities, environment, and economy.”
BC United’s comprehensive wildfire policy reforms include:
- Modernized Firefighting Services: Establishing a modern, full-time firefighting service with more front-line personnel, an expanded provincial aircraft fleet, and cutting-edge fire suppression technology to protect homes and infrastructure.
- Leveraging Local Expertise: Deploying local contractors for rapid fire suppression, streamlining their use to enhance B.C.’s response capabilities.
- Empowering Local Response Teams: Equipping and empowering local volunteer fire response teams, including First Nations and community members, with essential supplies and resources.
- Swift Support for Evacuees: Pledging automatic financial support for evacuees during the first 72 hours, alongside efficient aid through streamlined Emergency Social Services for people and communities.
- Forest Management and Prevention: Aggressively overhauling forestry management practices, emphasizing swift responses to fires and reducing wildfire risk through selective harvesting, expedited permits, regulatory changes, and financial incentives.
BC United additionally commits to focusing on made-in-B.C. technological solutions, increasing spending on prevention measures, and modernizing the Disaster Financial Assistance program
The 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2023 wildfire seasons saw millions of hectares of forest burned, with each season setting a new record for the largest area burned in British Columbian history. Tens of thousands were forced to evacuate their homes, and many suffered the destruction of property, the total loss of homes, or the inability to earn a living off the land. Massive economic values of harvestable timber, desperately needed to supply mills and support jobs across B.C., have literally gone up in smoke, and the impact of fires on crown range lands is immeasurable.
In the wake of such consistently disastrous wildfire seasons, the last thing British Columbians deserve is another bureaucratic exercise like a task force or advisory group, mandated to come up with the same recommendations that have been put forward and not acted upon for years by the NDP Government.
It’s time for action. A Kevin Falcon-led BC United government will dramatically change how the province prepares for, responds to, and recovers from wildfires with the following key actions:
- Create a modern, full-time firefighting service with significantly more front-line personnel, a much larger provincial aircraft fleet, and cutting-edge fire suppression technology to defend homes and infrastructure.
- Use B.C. contractors early and broadly for rapid fire suppression, leveraging their unmatched local knowledge, developing a comprehensive inventory of available union and non-union contractors and cutting through bureaucratic red tape.
- Train and equip local response by trusting and empowering volunteer fire response teams from First Nations and local communities full of ranchers, farmers, and contractors with essential supplies and resources while addressing safety, liability, insurance, certifications, and standardized training for these teams.
- Provide automatic financial support for evacuees during the first 72 hours, alongside swift, efficient aid through streamlined Emergency Social Services for people and communities.
- Aggressively overhaul forestry management practices by ensuring a much greater emphasis on hitting fires hard and fast upon initial identification, and on reducing wildfire risk via selective harvesting of beetle-damaged and burnt timber via expedited permits, regulatory changes and financial incentives. We will also expedite re-planting in burnt areas to help wildlife populations and ecosystem recovery.
Other actions a B.C. United Government will take to better protect British Columbians:
Technological Solutions and Fire Response:
- Focus on aggressively adopting made-in-B.C. solutions, such as specialized drones, mass water delivery systems, and night-vision technology so early fire attacks can commence at the hours of the day best suited for minimal fire activity (such as during night and morning hours with the coolest temperatures).
- Ensure the public has complete transparency concerning all aspects of a wildfire response – such as related to the use of contractors, prescribed back burns, specific resourcing and decision timelines, as well as the two-way communication of critical information for evacuees and the broader public during a wildfire.
Preventative Measures and Community Protection:
- Significant increase in FireSmart and other prevention spending on fuel treatment in interface areas in and around communities, including the predictable and automatic distribution of annual grant funding to local governments instead of requiring annual grant applications, and on off-season prescribed burns and creation of fireguards.
- Implement a provincially standardized Emergency Operations evacuation pass-system for Agricultural and other service providers in BC, recognizing the need for flexibility in the length of permits for entering and staying in Evacuation Order zones provided to impacted people and service providers.
Recovery and Financial Assistance:
- Modernize B.C.’s Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) program so it better serves British Columbians as follows:
- Streamline and simplify the complex DFA process.
- Set and define an ‘affordability’ metric for the DFA’s ‘reasonably and readily’ available insurance criteria.
- Expand DFA coverage to homeowners who live in areas of the province where no private insurance coverage is available (‘micro-pockets’).
- Implement a government grant program for homeowners in high-risk areas to offset some of the high costs of private insurance and incentivize individuals to purchase it.
- Ensure that farmers’ and ranchers’ eligibility for AgriRecovery funds is not limited by the variability in year-to-year commodity price changes or other year-to-year external factors that lead to lower annual productive capacity on the land base, and ensure that AgriRecovery funds support small, medium, and large scale operations.
- Mitigate unnecessary economic damages due to the impacts of regional State of Emergency declarations on local businesses, tourism and commerce, especially for areas that are still conducting business as usual despite fires in the region.