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Why doesn't Canada have a national wildfire-fighting force? –



Canada should consider a national firefighting force that could deploy quickly anywhere provinces or territories request help, according to two scientists in B.C.

The idea was floated this week by a wildfire expert at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., in the Interior — about 171 kilometres northwest of Kelowna — who argued it currently takes too long to get help from out-of-province or other countries. 

“The military has been called in a number of times,” said science professor Mike Flannigan, who is the B.C. Innovation Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science.

“I don’t think this is sustainable for us to use the Canadian military every year. If we had trained national force, we could use them preemptively instead of reactively like we tend to do now.”

But the federal government said that idea is not on the table, at least not yet, and that firefighting falls under provincial and territorial powers — while Ottawa is focusing on funding, training, equipment and research.

“There’s no specific discussion about a dedicated national force,” said Michael Norton, director with Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Centre, at a technical briefing to reporters Friday in North Vancouver.

People in profile wearing hoodies and grey sweaters, some wear hard hats an protective gear.
B.C. Wildfire Service crews receive a helicopter briefing before flying out to a site in the Vanderhoof-Fort St. James fire complex. Wildfire expert Mike Flannigan says it currently takes too long to get firefighting help from other provinces or countries. (Tom Popyk/CBC News)

“Our system of firefighting is based primarily on provincial and territorial responsibility for public lands.

“I don’t want to convey that anything is off the table … Any idea might might surface as being viable and desirable by the various jurisdictions.”

He said there will be a review with provinces and territories of lessons learned from this year’s fire season once it ends.

However, although Flannigan agreed firefighting would normally be a provincial area of authority, “we’re in uncharted territory,” he said.

That’s because this year’s record-breaking wildfire season has seen roughly 134,000 square kilometres burned, six times worse than the 10-year average in any one year.

That is nearly double the previous record of 76,000 square kilometres that burned in 1989.

“Currently we spend $1 billion [annually] … 2023 is going to exceed $1 billion, I’ll tell you that right now,” Flannigan said. 

“And this is only going to increase with time as we see more and more fires.”

Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s minister of emergency preparedness, said the country already has “sufficient resources to manage the wildfires.”

“I understand how important it is to have the capacity necessary to fight increasingly frequent, unpredictable, and intense wildfires,” Sajjan said in a statement to CBC News on Friday, adding the Canadian Armed Forces remain ready to deploy when requested by provinces.

Prevention and mitigation

Another fire expert questioned whether a fire response squadron would address the real problem of wildfires — preventing the worst dangers by removing fuels to burn near communities.

Wildland fire ecologist and consultant Robert Gray told CBC News he would rather see that approach, and praised Ottawa’s emphasis on Indigenous and community-level fire prevention efforts.

A wildfire is seen burning in Osoyoos, B.C.
The Eagle Bluff wildfire is seen burning from Anarchist Mountain, outside of Osoyoos, B.C., in this July 29, 2023 handout photo. Canada’s record-breaking wildfire season has seen roughly 134,000 square kilometres burned, six times worse than the 10-year average in any one year. (Michelle Genberg/The Canadian Press)

“Should we focus on response?” Gray, in Kimberley, B.C. — about 168 kilometres west of the border with Alberta — told CBC News on Friday.

“Everyone is telling us we have to pivot to mitigation and prevention.

“More people, yes — but more people to do that front-end work dealing with fuels, preparing communities and infrastructure, so that they can survive and be resistant to fire.”

‘Frequency and intensity’ of wildfires is higher: Wilkinson

4 days ago

Duration 0:50

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced more funding for wildfire prevention and said the natural phenomenon is happening more because of climate change.

He said unlike the U.S., which has tens of thousands of personnel already scattered across the country, having Ottawa take on such a role “would be a little bit tougher.”

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) currently helps provinces co-ordinate wildfire response, training and mutual aid.

A spokesperson said the centre “hopes that all options are on the table following this wildfire season,” but could not comment on specific proposals.

Looking to Australia

The idea of a new national firefighting force has gained support from another scientist, biologist Richard Cannings.

The Member of Parliament for South Okanagan—West Kootenay told CBC News he wants Ottawa to closely consider Flannigan’s proposal.

It would bring Canada in line with similar fire-impacted countries, such as Australia. Cannings said such an initiative could reduce financial and staffing stress on regional wildfire services, and increase the efficiency by which provinces can respond quickly to new fires.

A plane flies over the front lines of the Donnie Creek wildfire.
Air crews are pictured supporting efforts to fight the Donnie Creek wildfire. Biologist Richard Cannings told CBC News he wants Ottawa to consider the idea of a national firefighting force. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

“This is what we’re going to be living [with] for the next decades and centuries to come,” he told CBC News. “So let’s get prepared for it.

“It would be better to train up a national force and get them into the right place at the right time … a civilian force that we could use across the country.”

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Oleksiak’s journey to Paris a rocky one, but decorated swimmer is ready to battle



Canada’s most decorated athlete learned the power of grace heading into her third, but perhaps not her last, Olympic Games.

Owner of seven Olympic swimming medals at just 23 years old, Penny Oleksiak’s three years since Tokyo threw two knee surgeries and a shoulder injury at her, limiting her ability to train and compete.

When she felt stuck, Oleksiak executed a rite of passage into adulthood by figuring out how to get unstuck. That involved leaving her hometown of Toronto.

“If I had to sum it up in one word, it would probably be ‘unexpected,'” Oleksiak said. “I’ve had a very trying last couple years and a lot of things happening back-to-back.

“It’s been a really different experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few years, how much patience I have and how to give myself grace in a lot of situations.”

Oleksiak didn’t qualify for an individual event in Paris. She’ll be deployed in relays starting with the women’s 4 x 100 freestyle Saturday.

“It’s been hard definitely to wrap my head around the fact that I’m not competing in an individual event, but I’m still competing in quite a few events,” Oleksiak said. “I’m still aiming to do some really impressive things, and training really hard to be able to do those things and contribute to the team as much as I have in the past and see what impact I can have.

“I’m always looking at it through a really realistic lens of, as an athlete, my goals are always to be on the podium. I don’t think that’s going to change at this Olympics.”

Her seven medals are the most won by a Canadian Olympian. Oleksiak’s been a relay gamer throughout her career.

She anchored the 4 x 100 freestyle relay to silver and the medley relay to bronze in Tokyo after a pair of relay bronze medals in Rio in 2016.

All nine of her world championship medals — the most by a Canadian swimmer — are in relays.

At 16, Oleksiak won gold in 100-metre freestyle and silver in 100-metre butterfly in Rio. She was a bronze medallist in the 200-metre freestyle in Tokyo.

“For the first time at this Olympics, I’m going to have that little bit of alleviated pressure, because I think when you’re on a relay and you’re surrounded by other girls, it really does take that pressure off, and you don’t feel as lonely when you’re in the ready room,” Oleksiak said.

She moved to Mission Viejo, Calif., in 2023 to join a group of international pro swimmers coached by Jeff Julian. She’d been training out of Toronto’s Pan Am Sports Centre since the age of 15.

“I really needed a change of scenery,” Oleksiak said. “Spending a year at the centre with my injury was really frustrating for me. It felt like I was stuck. I kept wanting a different result, but not doing anything differently to get that result.

“I’ve been really lucky with the support team I have out in California for my training. I’m surrounded by really amazing and talented people who are really good at what they do. I’ve had people helping me non-stop literally all the time. I’m surrounded by the best of the best people at rehabbing these kinds of injuries, the best people at researching these injuries.

“This is one of the first times that I’ve felt like, ‘OK, I have confidence when I do get injured in knowing I’m going to be able to come back.'”

That has Oleksiak thinking Los Angeles in 2028 when she was once sure Paris would be her final Olympic Games.

“It’s really made me want that longevity out of my career,” she said. “Through my injuries, a lot of people told me ‘you don’t have to do this. You’ve achieved a lot, you could retire.’ I was just like ‘I hate that people are saying this to me. I hate that people think I don’t want to do this.’

“Through my injuries is really when I found that motivation in knowing that I really wanted to do something.”

Ontario leads all provinces in the 338 athletes named to the Canadian team with 141.

Oleksiak is among Olympians such as teammate Maggie Mac Neil and sprinter Andre De Grasse supported by Quest For Gold, which is funded by the Ontario government and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. Oleksiak has been a recipient for a decade of a program that’s delivered $151 million to athletes since 2006.

“Without that financial support, I don’t think I would have been able to pursue swimming as much as I have,” she said. “Growing up, it really helped me a lot being able to go to swim meets that my family wouldn’t have been able to pay for or been able to go to training camps otherwise.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

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Accused in murder-conspiracy trial at Coutts, Alta., blockade to continue testimony



LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – The trial of two men charged with conspiring to murder Mounties at the Coutts border blockade in Alberta is expected to hear more testimony today from one of the accused.

Chris Carbert has told court he brought guns and body armour to the blockade, but says there was no plan for violence unless he had to perhaps flee to the mountains and fend off someone trying to give him a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Carbert and Anthony Olienick are being tried together in front of a jury in Court of King’s Bench in Lethbridge.

The two were charged after police made arrests and seized weapons at the blockade in early 2022.

The protest against COVID-19 rules and vaccine mandates tied up traffic for two weeks at the Alberta-U.S. border crossing at Coutts.

Court has heard Olienick considered the blockade the fight of a lifetime against a government bent on ending individual freedoms.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Faster progress needed on removing interprovincial trade barriers: CFIB report



TORONTO – Doing business across provincial lines is starting to get easier but progress is slow, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

In a report released Tuesday, the CFIB says it’s important for provinces and the federal government to remove barriers to interprovincial trade to improve productivity and boost the economy.

It says the vast majority of small business owners want governments to prioritize removing barriers, while a little over half of those surveyed say they’re losing productivity because of multiple sets of regulations.

There has been some recent progress, including the federal government removing eight procurement exemptions to the Canadian Free Trade Agreement this year and committing to removing an additional six by year-end.

The federal government has also launched an internal trade data hub, while the government body tasked with implementing the Canadian Free Trade Agreement has set up an online portal for Canadians to identify potential regulatory barriers to trade.

But the CFIB says there have still been no tangible improvements on removing alcohol trade barriers, or much in the way of reducing obstacles to doing business.

“Despite some positive steps … overall progress has been minimal,” said Jairo Yunis, director for B.C. and western economic policy for the CFIB, in a statement.

There was a small step recently to at least return to the status quo on alcohol shipments after Alberta imposed more restrictions earlier this year.

In January, Alberta’s liquor sales regulator said it would no longer accept shipments of B.C. wines unless B.C. wineries stopped direct sales to Alberta consumers. Last week, the provinces announced they had agreed on a path that would see direct sales resume.

Overall, the report ranks Manitoba as leading the way on interprovincial trade, while Quebec ranked last.

Businesses looking to expand operations across borders within Canada experience several challenges, depending on the province or territory, the CFIB says. All provinces and the federal government have implemented what’s needed on first aid kit standards, for example, while all but the feds have done it on life jackets.

It gets spottier on categories like certifying entry-level truck drivers, with only about half of provinces done, while on construction codes, the CFIB says all provinces are working on it but none are complete.

The CFIB recommends governments across Canada quickly adopt a mutual recognition agreement covering all regulations on the sale or use of all goods and services.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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