Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited West Kelowna last Friday (Aug. 25) to meet with local firefighters, city officials, and the media to discuss the Grouse Complex wildfires that have affected three Central Okanagan communities.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult summer for so many Canadians from coast to coast to coast as communities have been hit with wildfires, extreme weather events on top of all the other economic events people are facing,” Trudeau said during a news conference at Fire Hall 33.
“The one thing we’ve been able to see everywhere across the country is communities stepping up to be there for each other.”
The prime minister took a question from an individual who had been evacuated about where the money would come from so that people and communities could rebuild.
“We’re seeing more and more intense weather events, insurance is going to get more difficult for people to obtain, even for those who can obtain it and we know that falls on all of us to be there to help communities and individuals who’ve lost everything, having to rebuild,” he said.
“All orders of government will be there to work together to make sure Canadians are getting through this that’s what our job is.”
Trudeau did not announce any funding or programs to help those affected by the wildfires.
He was also asked if the federal government would consider stable funding to municipalities for infrastructure, including wildfire interface programs, instead of communities having to rely on winning grants.
“When we got elected in 2015 we made a commitment to invest in infrastructure that previous federal governments simply had not,” Trudeau said.
He referred to his government’s recent $3 billion in permanent, yearly transit funding. “I think we need to start looking at that around emergencies, we certainly need to start looking at that around infrastructure investments so that cities can make plans to continue to grow.”
A news release from the federal Conservative Party, sent out at the same time the prime minister was speaking, claimed that during the 2021 election, Trudeau promised to train and equip 1,000 woodland firefighters and provide an additional $500 million to the provinces and territories to buy essential equipment to increase their ability to fight fires before the 2022 fire season.
“Of the $500 million he promised to the provinces – $177 million was cut and diverted to a new satellite that won’t launch till 2029,” said the Conservative Party statement.
“Budget 2022 then spread the remaining funding over five years, with only $15.6 million earmarked for 2022 – just 3% of what Trudeau promised.
“As of December 1, 2022 not a single firefighter had even begun to be trained.”
West Kelowna Mayor Gord Milsom, whose community has been hard hit by the McDougall Creek wildfire, said he is hoping to see greater investment from the federal government.
“In wildfire mitigation and planning. I believe we could use more support in emergency management programs, particularly emergency support services,” Milsom said. “More sustainable, ongoing funding would be very much appreciated, that was my ask.”
Regional District Central Okanagan board chair Loyal Wooldridge pointed out that Electora Area West was devastated by the McDougall Creek wildfire.
“We’re calling on the federal government, the provincial government, to look at our emergency operations centre as a year-round model,” Wooldridge said.
“Right now we’re pulling from municipalities working off the side of their desk.”
He would also like to see the federal government provide sustainable infrastructure dollars to invest in things such as fire halls and Westside Road “which is very important to service rural and remote communities.”
Asked about support for year-round emergency services, Trudeau said the focus right now is getting through the wildfire crisis in the Central Okanagan.
“We know, unfortunately, extreme weather events are going to get more frequent, more extreme in the years to come,” the prime minister said.
“We have to learn from what’s worked and what hasn’t worked as well as it could have and put that in place.”