Money to burn?

More than a million dollars in provincial government funding has been spent bankrolling the writing of wildfire protection plans in communities across British Columbia. But neither the province nor the Union of British Columbia Municipalities - which hands out that funding - know to what extent those plans have actually been acted on.

The plans often include recommendations ranging from buying forest fire fighting equipment and changing bylaws to thinning out wooded areas that, if left alone, could increase the chances or severity of such a blaze.

After 2003's devastating fire season, a review headed by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon stated every community at risk of a forest fire should be required to have a plan.

But Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell said last week it might be inappropriate for him to keep an eye on whether communities are following through with their plan's recommendations.

"As someone who lives in Prince George, I would expect that my mayor and council would be delivering on protection plans once they funded it," he told Public Eye during an interview in his capital city office last week.

"So I'm not sure it's our job to hold each of these communities hands as we go through this process. I think that many people would see it as interfering - big government stepping on little government in the process."

Nor has the Union of British Columbia Municipalities put in place such a tracking system.

"As grant administrators, we need to make sure the plan is completed," explained Brenda Gibson, the general manager of the union's Victoria operations.

But once that happens, she said, "that's the end of it" with the plan's implementation being a "local government responsibility."

As a result, no one knows how many communities are in the same spot as Whistler - which hasn't completed many of the key recommendations in its 2005 plan.

This, despite the fact the resort municipality was warned there could be "extreme consequences" if a wildfire struck the community.

New Democrat forests and range critic Norm Macdonald described that lack of knowledge as "absolutely absurd."

"It's been five years (since the Filmon Report). They should have this work completed or should be able to explain why it's not complete," he said. "For them to not to know - or to claim not to know - is just unacceptable."

Nevertheless, Minister Bell maintained his government has a "pretty good handle" on the state of wildfire preparedness across British Columbia.

"We know who the key contact points are with each of the various communities."

So, if a fire breaks out, provincial officials can know within minutes the status of any given plan - including which hazard areas have been cleared and which haven't.

Still, as the year's vicious forest fire season comes to a close, Minister Bell acknowledged a tracking system was an "interesting concept" and one that "makes sense."

"We may have to call it the Holman proposal if it gets to implementation," he joked.

1 Comment

Go get 'em, Sean!

Leave a comment

Copyright © 2004 - Public Eye Mediaworks. Reproductions of any portion of this Website are permitted only with the expressed permission of Public Eye Mediaworks.
Canadian Web Hosting graciously provided by dotcanuck Web Services. Layout and graphics courtesy of Art Department Design.