BC Wildfires 2018: Fire season shaping up to be more intense than average - Canadanewsmedia
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BC Wildfires 2018: Fire season shaping up to be more intense than average



Potentially dangerous wildfires continue to grow across British Columbia in a fire season that's worse than average.

And forecasts of lower temperatures could bring cold comfort for firefighters as accompanying winds may spread the flames even more.

Kevin Skrepnek with B.C.'s Wildfire Service says there are 472 active wildfires burning throughout the province — more than 30 of those considered fires of note because they are highly visible or threaten homes.

"We've got what we call fires of note in all six of our regional fire centres so really from one corner of B.C. to another," Skrepnek said. 

The fire near Telegraph Creek in northwest B.C. remains the province's largest, currently 300 square kilometres in size.

Dozens of properties around the community have been damaged or destroyed and, at B.C.'s request, the Yukon government is to open a reception centre today in Whitehorse. Officials ask evacuees to register there for emergency social services.

Although Whitehorse is more than 600 kilometres to the northwest of the fire, it's where many of the Telegraph Creek evacuees have gathered.

Higher than average fire season

Compared to a 10-year period, there are 1,500 fires so far this season when the average number would be 1,100, Skrepnek said. 

 "We've had — as of this morning — an estimated 188,000 hectares burned," Skrepnek said. "The average for this time of year is about 158,000."

But it still doesn't compare to 2017: by this time last year, we had burned over 600,000 hectares.  

Fires across the province 

Because the fires are spread across the province, Skrepnek says finding crews to fight the fires has been challenging. 

"We're typically quite nimble with our resourcing in terms of moving crews from one fire resource centre to another wherever the needs are greatest," he said. "That's definitely being stretched right now given [every region is] very, very busy at the moment and they're at their highest levels of preparedness."

He says crews have pitched in from the forest industry, outside the province and outside of the country including New Zealand, Australia and Mexico.

Weekend weather could prove challenging

Environment Canada says heat warnings in many parts of B.C. should be lifted as a cold front arrives, but that front will carry gusty winds that could kick up the flames.

"That is going to inform some of the tactics we are implementing on the ground in terms of how these fires can grow and what direction they can grow in," he said. 

Even though there is some rain in the forecast, it is expected to be patchy and scattered with the possibility of lightning — which could spark more fire. Unfortunately the central and northern parts of the province, which has a number of large, intensive fires, are expected to remain relatively dry. 

"We are bracing for the next few days to be pretty critical depending on how that pans out," Skrepnek said. 

Additional fire information

  • The Snowy Mountain wildfire near Keremeos is 122 square kilometres in size. Crews are being rotated in to provide 24-hour coverage.
  • The Verdun Mountain wildfire has grown to 11 square kilometres. On Thursday, the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District expanded the evacuation order related to the blaze. 
  • The Nadina Lake wildfire burning about 60 kilometres south of Houston is now 150 square kilometres in size. Regional officials expanded the related evacuation order and alert on Thursday.
  • The Shovel Lake wildfire, 30 kilometres northeast of Burns Lake, is 165 square kilometres. There is an expanded evacuation order and alert issued by the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District. 
  • The High Creek wildfire between Hope and Agassiz is 50 hectares in size. Crews are building helipads to get helicopters closer to the fire. 
  • The fire at Horseshoe Bay on the Sea-to-Sky Highway continues to burn. Crews have it 50-per-cent contained as of this morning. 
  • All regional parks in Metro Vancouver are under an extreme fire danger rating. Campfires and barbecues are prohibited.
  • The campfire ban across most of the province remains due to unseasonably dry and hot conditions.

Wildfire map:

Evacuation orders and alerts:

With files from the Canadian Press

Read more from CBC British Columbia

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Doug Ford promises to balance books, targets Trudeau and team at PC convention




Premier Doug Ford promised to balance Ontario’s budget, without providing specifics, while broadening his attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax at a gathering of Progressive Conservative party faithful on Friday.

Mr. Ford used his opening night speech at the Ontario PC party convention to tout his party’s economic plan after his government introduced its first fiscal update this week, when the Tories announced the provincial deficit had fallen by $500 million to $14.5 million.

“The Liberals kept picking your pockets. Always finding new fees, finding new taxes. And even after introducing billions in new taxes, they left Ontario with a $15-billion dollar deficit,” Mr. Ford said to boos from hundreds of PC members who gathered for the first time since the June election. “We will balance that budget as sure as I’m standing here, because it’s the right thing to do.”

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Still, Mr. Ford did not give a timeline for balancing the province’s books, despite the fact that the PCs promised during the election campaign that they would return to balance by the end of their mandate.

The Ontario Premier also broadened his attack against Mr. Trudeau and the federal carbon tax to include the Prime Minister’s “advisers.” Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, who worked at Queen’s Park for former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty until 2008, frequently targets Mr. Ford on social media for the Premier’s decision to pull out of the cap and trade program and for his lack of climate policy.

“We will fight the carbon tax right to the end. The Prime Minister, his ministers, his advisers, they want to impose a carbon tax that will jack up the price of everything, every good and every service,” Mr. Ford, whose government is challenging the tax in court, said. “I’m putting the Prime Minister on notice. We’ve already taken Kathleen Wynne’s hands out of your pockets. And Justin Trudeau … you’re next,” he said, to the night’s loudest applause and cheers.

Mr. Ford also took pains to praise his finance minister, Vic Fedeli, who faces allegations in former PC leader Patrick Brown’s new book. Mr. Brown alleges Mr. Fedeli was the subject of an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations last year. Mr. Fedeli has called the claims false and malicious.

“Minister Vic Fedeli, one of the most honourable men I have ever worked with … told us how we are going to get Ontario back on track. We’re going to watch every single penny,” Mr. Ford said.

Although Mr. Ford’s speech was met with cheers and applause, the large convention centre room was not at capacity, and chatter filled the space during the speech.

Despite Mr. Ford’s assurances that the “Ontario PC Party has never been stronger,” the PCs are facing a bitter battle for party president at the gathering in Toronto this weekend, as members will also vote on measures to clean up nomination races and membership sales.

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The party’s general meeting comes on the heels of Mr. Ford’s majority government election victory and after months of turmoil sparked by the forced resignation Mr. Brown amid sexual misconduct allegations. Mr. Brown, recently elected as mayor of Brampton, denies the accusations.

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Meet Dean French, the political unknown who has become an omnipresent force in Ford's government




When Ontario Progressive Conservatives gathered for a “unity rally” last March, the plan was for Doug Ford to be introduced by the candidates he had defeated for his party’s leadership days earlier.

It was to be an important gesture of conciliation, after a hurried and heated race that he barely won. But when Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney arrived at the Toronto Congress Centre, speaking notes already prepared, they were told that their services weren’t needed after all.

Instead, the person to precede Mr. Ford was someone most Tories in attendance had never seen or heard of before − but whose name they would soon know well, and whose presence many of them would soon come to fear.

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Dean French watches Doug Ford’s speech at the Ontario PC’s victory party on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Etobicoke, Ont.

Chris Donovan/The Globe and Mail

Dean French, an Etobicoke businessman not prominent in Conservative circles since working on Stockwell Day’s national campaign nearly two decades earlier, was Mr. Ford’s campaign chair. The day after the PCs won power in June, Mr. Ford named him his chief of staff.

Since then, he has emerged as something even that job title can’t fully capture: an omnipresent force seen by some of the new government’s members as more powerful than the Premier who employs him.

The manner in which Mr. French wields his power entered public view this week, when The Globe and Mail reported that he forced the firing of Alykhan Velshi, who was chief of staff to former PC leader Patrick Brown, from a job at the energy utility Ontario Power Generation. His intervention left some Tories privately shaking their heads, because they see it as an impulsive move that will lead to a large, politically unhelpful severance payment.

While offering limited defence of that incident, Mr. French’s allies present it as isolated. In an interview this week, Chris Froggatt − a lobbyist and long-time friend of Mr. French who headed Mr. Ford’s transition team as the PCs formed government − credited Mr. French for bringing together Tories from all camps after the leadership race. He also credited him for adopting an aggressive management approach consistent with Mr. Ford’s desire to run government like a business. John Capobianco, another PC lobbyist who has long known Mr. French, suggested he mostly acts out of loyalty to Mr. Ford. (Mr. French did not reply to interview requests.)

But most of nearly 20 PC insiders interviewed − a range of caucus members and staffers and campaign veterans, almost all of whom were willing to speak only on a not-for-attribution basis − suggested that what happened with Mr. Velshi only scratched the surface of how Mr. French is asserting his will.

The way they describe him casts surprising light on the personality of this new government. Mr. Ford is described by provincial caucus members and staff as pleasant, respectful and, by some accounts, almost passive behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Mr. French is portrayed by insiders almost precisely as Mr. Ford’s critics perceive the new Premier to be: mercurial, bent on settling scores and indifferent to boundaries that his job usually involves.

Most chiefs of staff keep relatively low profiles and make some show of deferring to elected representatives. Mr. French is an extreme exception, for reasons more consequential than his occasional reprisals of his gig as Mr. Ford’s warm-up act.

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There is the way he conducts himself in dealings away from Queen’s Park, including with other levels of government. Most staffers in their bosses’ presence at such meetings defer to them; Mr. French has been at least as outspoken and aggressive as Mr. Ford when accompanying him to meetings with federal officials, with whom they are sparring.

There is the unusual control that Mr. French appears to exert over his government’s appointments processes. He is said to have a tendency to conduct negotiations for high-profile public positions − in some cases, lucrative arrangements off brand for a populist conservative government − without others being looped in, presenting them to Mr. Ford as done deals. The reported $350,000 salary for Conservative insider Ian Todd to serve as Ontario’s trade representative in Washington was cited by multiple sources as an example.

But the most polarizing aspect of Mr. French’s approach to his job is the way he throws his weight around with other Tories at Queen’s Park − encouraging fealty and discouraging independent thought in ways that are unusual even by the hyper-disciplined standards of Canadian parliamentary democracy.

In proceedings where political staff usually aren’t welcome to participate, he has taken a lead role. That includes actively engaging in cabinet meetings, as well as the smaller committee of senior ministers who are supposed to set the government’s agenda. He also sits at the front of caucus meetings, rather than along the side where staff usually sit quietly, if they attend at all. And he uses those positions to clamp down on any semblance of dissent.

Earlier this fall, former federal MP Paul Calandra − now a provincial backbencher − stood up in caucus to complain that MPPs had not been looped in before the government rolled out its cannabis policy (which Mr. French spearheaded internally). That level of criticism is not unusual at caucus meetings of most governments, including the Stephen Harper-led one that Mr. Calandra served in, and can be an important component of representing constituents. But according to multiple people who were in the room, after Mr. Ford responded politely, Mr. French furiously tore into Mr. Calandra for not being a team player. The result was a lengthy screaming match between the chief of staff and the MPP that served as a message to others in the room that they’re best to keep their heads down.

Mr. French’s behaviour with PC aides has been similar. At a meeting with ministers’ chiefs of staff, he asked whether they thought their directors of communications were performing well; when they answered yes, he berated them for being wrong. He then attended a meeting of communications directors where he assailed their collective competence, and singled out individual ones to the extent that in at least one case they were reduced to tears. The main cause of his anger, according to multiple sources, was that they were not doing enough to amplify Mr. Ford’s messaging on social media, through mechanisms like retweets and hashtags.

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Accounts abound of similar one-on-one confrontations about perceived disloyalty, with threats of firings or demotions. MPPs are under the impression that Mr. French − a physically imposing man who speaks in sports metaphors, many about the importance of being a team − is closely monitoring their public behaviour for signs of insufficient enthusiasm. That may help explain caucus recently delivering so many standing ovations in Question Period that the Speaker of the legislature asked it to stop.

To date, push-back against such treatment has been minimal. Most members of Mr. Ford’s cabinet are happy to be there after years as opposition MPPs; most backbenchers are new to elected office. Few are inclined to risk going to Mr. Ford, particularly when Mr. French is perceived to closely guard access to him, and many consider sidling up to Mr. French as their best chance at longevity or promotion.

But the controversy with Mr. Velshi and various surprising personnel moves attributed to Mr. French (such as the unexplained firing of John Sinclair, the popular head of PC caucus services), has recently raised the level of chatter about whether the current situation is sustainable.

How Mr. Ford will react, if and when other Tories come to him with their concerns, is very unclear.

A view common among many of Mr. French’s detractors is that Mr. Ford would be upset to know how Mr. French is treating people, ostensibly on his behalf. But some of the interactions have happened right in front of him.

What they may be underestimating is the extent to which Mr. Ford sees in Mr. French a kindred spirit, and someone who has his back.

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Although not much involved in broader party politics after his stint as a campaign official for Mr. Day’s Canadian Alliance, Mr. French remained a fixture in local politics in Etobicoke − where he moved as a young man after growing up in the Peterborough area – launched his insurance business and raised his family. That put him in the Ford family’s backyard, and he has been a reliable ally since as far back as 1995, when he helped Doug Ford Sr. successfully run for a provincial seat. Later, he worked on Rob Ford’s mayoral victory and helped organize the subsequent Harmony Dinner to erase the debt of some municipal candidates.

Mr. French was among the first people to hop aboard Doug Ford Jr.’s leadership campaign last winter. And over the course of that campaign and especially the general election, he was almost always by Mr. Ford’s side. That allowed the two men, who are both in their early 50s and share a love of sports and other interests, to strengthen their friendship.

In a government filled with political professionals who did not support Mr. Ford in the leadership contest, Mr. French stands out as someone whose established loyalty is first and foremost to the Premier, not the party or any other institution. Mr. Ford, known for his skepticism toward political and bureaucratic “elites,” may also see Mr. French’s disregard for institutional norms as a virtue. And as Mr. Froggatt suggested, Mr. Ford may look at his government’s early record – including pushing through an end to the province’s carbon pricing system, a shrinking of Toronto’s city council and an overhaul of cannabis legalization – and see Mr. French’s heavy-handedness paying off.

Even an odd one of Mr. French’s internal critics concedes some appreciation for the pace at which this government can move, when consensus is essentially forced on it rather than slowly ironed out at the cabinet table.

But from all those critics − senior staff around government, MPPs, people who worked on Mr. Ford’s campaign and express affection for him and belief in his government’s overall agenda − there are warnings about the path they are on, if Mr. French’s management style continues.

Morale, they say, is already dangerously low. The Tories are at risk of losing good staffers much earlier than most governments do. Aides and caucus members who bite their tongues while their party is still relatively strong in the polls could turn on their leader when the going gets tougher.

And that tough going could come sooner than it should, if there are more stories like the one with Mr. Velshi. A Premier and chief of staff both new to government and unfamiliar with usual boundaries could stumble onto all sorts of ethical landmines, if others with more legislative or governmental experience are afraid to speak up.

Such talk will not be audible as PCs gather this weekend for their first convention since winning government.

As Mr. French maintains his usual high profile, Queen’s Park denizens will be careful to publicly show requisite enthusiasm, lest they be called onto the carpet. But the whispers of confusion, when he took the microphone at the same venue last March for the unity rally, will likely be replaced by ones that are more knowing.

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Third incident reported at Toronto private school




People leave St. Michael’s College School following a parent information meeting relating to an alleged sexual assault involving students in Toronto on Nov. 16, 2018.

Tijana Martin

Eight students have been expelled from St. Michael’s College School over two videos, one showing an alleged sexual assault, as the elite Toronto academy revealed that it is examining a third incident.

Police are investigating multiple occurrences of “alleged assaultive and sexually assaultive behaviour” involving St. Michael’s College School students. “At this stage, police believe there may be other victims and witnesses and are encouraging anyone who has not yet spoken to investigators to come forward by calling the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre,” the police service said in a news release Friday.

The school released its timeline of events on Friday, which detailed three separate incidents coming to their attention over the past five days. It was the first official confirmation of a “third incident.” The Globe and Mail spoke with a parent who said her child viewed the alleged third video in a Snapchat group of approximately 35 to 40 people on Wednesday night, allegedly depicting a boy performing a sex act on another boy in front of a group of others. She said her child, who does not attend the school, e-mailed administrators from St. Michael’s, believing the video to involve its students.

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The new video was allegedly viewed in the same Snapchat group as the graphic sexual-assault video that’s been under investigation by Toronto Police since midweek. Two police sources who spoke with The Canadian Press say that the sexual-assault video being investigated since Wednesday allegedly involves a St. Michael’s football team, in which a group of boys allegedly held down another student and sexually assaulted him with an object. The school said Friday that the video took place in a locker room.

By the school’s own account, it learned about the locker-room video on Monday evening. Earlier that same day, the school had contacted police about a separate videotaped incident, where the two police sources who spoke with The Canadian Press say members of the basketball team allegedly bullied a student and soaked him with water. The school said that incident took place in a washroom. “Advice was provided to the school, and no further action was taken or received,” Constable Caroline de Kloet said.

An internal school investigation was launched into the boys’ washroom incident, and on Tuesday, four students were expelled because of that probe. Also Tuesday, the school interviewed students identified as allegedly being involved with the locker-room video. Faculty and staff were informed Tuesday about both incidents. On Wednesday, four other students were expelled for the locker-room video, plus one suspended in connection to the washroom incident. Police also learned about the locker-room video on Wednesday, but Constable de Kloet told The Globe and Mail that they learned about it through media inquiries.

The timeline released by the school doesn’t specifically answer why administrators didn’t inform police right away about the locker-room video, which police have said meets the definition of child pornography. “There have been many questions about our handling of the matter and the sequence of events leading to the expulsion of eight students and one suspension,” the school wrote. “The priority for the last three days has been on the victims, students, and our staff and faculty.”

Several meetings have been held at the school, including two with parents on Friday. Administrators and coaches met with the junior football team Thursday. A Facebook post on the school’s page from last week boasted about their junior football team’s championship victory in the independent school conference. The school has said that the season is now cancelled.

“As school administrators and educators, we bear a heavy responsibility to help guide our students through a challenging period in their lives – when external forces are often in conflict with the notion of doing the right thing,” the school wrote Friday, “and these incidents were a stark reminder that we have more work to do.”

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