Ontario’s forest firefighting budget will increase as necessary, minister says

The Progressive Conservative MPP for the Kenora area says the province will continue to free up the necessary money to fight wildfires as the Ford government has come under fire from some federal Liberals over the emergency forest firefighting budget.

The 2019 provincial budget sets funding for forest firefighting at $69.8 million for 2019-2020, while the document shows that Ontario spent $212 million for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.  That led to some, including Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu and Toronto-area MP Adam Vaughan, on Twitter, pointing to that change as an example of painful cuts by the Ford government.

Not so, said Greg Rickford, the provincial member for Kenora-Rainy River and the province’s minister of northern development and mines, energy as well as Indigenous affairs, adding that the nearly $70 million represents a starting point that will be increased if necessary, as it always has.

“These costs would have come in over the course of the year when forest fires had unforeseen requests or demands for additional resources,” he said.

“Those will continue to be top priority for us.”

At least the past five provincial budgets, which are tabled in the spring before the forest fire season starts, earmarked the same amount — $69.8 million — to emergency firefighting. The actual costs then routinely jumped to near or over $100 million based on what happened during the fire season itself.

“Especially last year, we saw a spike in forest fire activity and therefore response, the treasury was able to mobilize very quickly,” Rickford said.

“Those resources would not have been identified at the beginning of the fiscal year.”