B.C. premier again resists calls for wildfire state of emergency

Premier John Horgan listens to questions over the phone from media as he joins Minister Mike Farnsworth to provide government measures in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference in the press gallery at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito.

Premier John Horgan is rejecting repeated calls from the public, local mayors and the BC Liberals to call a provincial state of emergency connected to wildfires.

“There is not one advantage” to calling a state of emergency except to bring more people together, Horgan told an unrelated news conference on Friday.

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Yesterday, officials heading B.C.’s wildfire battle said the season was so “unprecedented” they’re being forced to choose which fires to fight to protect both lives and property.

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Since April 1, almost 1,100 fire “incidents” have been recorded in the province with 223,000 hectares burned to date.

“I’m absolutely prepared to call a state of emergency when it is required by those professionals that are putting their lives on the line to protect families, property, and B.C.,” Horgan said.

“In 2003, when there was a state of emergency declared because of fires by the former government, it was done on the advice of Emergency Management BC and the wildfire service — not the official Opposition, not anyone else in the community — but the professionals that we put in place to protect B.C.”

Read more: State of emergency for B.C.’s wildfires not ‘necessary’ at this time: officials

The BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC have not yet asked for a state of emergency.

The province declared states of emergency in 2003, 2017 and 2018 connected to wildfires. The government recently ended a 16-month state of emergency connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A state of emergency gives the province unprecedented powers to access resources, including local firefighting infrastructure and buildings for both evacuation and firefighting.

“We already have full participation from the federal government, some 500 military personnel, as well as equipment. We’re working with the private sector in areas of concerns, where fires are underway — 300-plus fires in B.C. to this point, 27 over the past number of days,” Horgan said.

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“We have significant challenges. We have the resources to manage that to the best of our ability, and if a state of emergency were called today, it would have no impact on resources because they are already in place.”

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The Thompson-Nicola Regional District voted unanimously on Thursday to ask the province to declare the emergency measure.

Merlin Blackwell, mayor of Clearwater north of Kamloops, said there is no relief coming from the weather in the next few weeks.

Read more: Wildfire-plagued B.C. region formally calls for provincial state of emergency

Blackwell said the state of emergency allows for firefighting experts working in other government departments to be moved to help battle the fires. It also helps private companies.

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“For private companies, the state of emergency allows them to leave those contracts. Whether it be working for (the Ministry of Forests) in a different department or a silviculture company, it is one of the most critical parts,” he said.

“It also sends a message to this part of the province that the province is taking this seriously.”

The government has said Quebec and New Brunswick have offered firefighting resources. Mexican firefighters, meanwhile, are in transit and should be in B.C. in the next few days.

“We have normally relied heavily on Australia because of the inverted seasons,” Horgan said. “They’re going into their winter as we are heading into our summer. But there are significant COVID issues within Australia, and they’re not prepared to join us at this time.”

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