Bell takes a right turn

As an investigative journalist, I spend much of my time writing and talking about what government is doing wrong. But today, I'd like to acknowledge something government is doing right. Last month, I reported more than 100 local governments don't have wildfire protection plans. Local officials told me they don't have the money or manpower to prepare those plans - a problem Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell suggested should be solved by local government.

Last week, though, he announced 16 ministry staff would be assigned to accelerate their completion. It's the right thing to do. But, as an investigative journalist, I also have questions about that announcement. For example, who are the 16 staff members? Are they qualified to help complete the protection plans? And how much money do they have to do that work?

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities also announced it will be giving more money for local governments to act on their protection plans - drawing from funding provided by the province. But can those governments afford the rest of the bill? And is there enough cash in that fund to cover the total and ongoing cost of clearing and thinning wooded areas that, if left alone, could increase the chances or severity of a wildfire.

So yes, Minister Bell is doing the right thing. But that doesn't meant there aren't questions about what's he doing and whether that's the only thing that needs to be done.

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