Posted on Apr 28, 2020
UCP CUTS TO FIREFIGHTERS AND LIFTING OHV BAN PUT COMMUNITIES AT RISK
EDMONTON -- The UCP government's cuts to the Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program (RAP) and lifting of the off-highway vehicle (OHV) ban have increased the risk to of fires, putting the health and safety of Albertans at further risk in the middle of a global pandemic.
In November last year, the UCP cut the RAP program in order to save money. But according to media reports, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen lied about the number of times RAP was deployed and its potential replacement program.
“The fact that the Minister looked Albertans in the eye and lied to them is truly despicable,” said Lorne Dach, NDP Critic for Agriculture and Forestry. “He owes Albertans an apology.”
When the cuts were initially announced, Minister Dreeshen claimed the RAP program was only used in two per cent of fires. However, the FOIP documents show that in 2018, the RAP team rappelled in 23 per cent of the fires they were deployed to. The documents show Minister Dreeshen and his staff knew this, but continued to use the two per cent figure.
Dreeshen also claimed RAP would be replaced by the Human External Cargo (HEC) program. But a memo from Transport Canada reminds recipients about the existing regulations and deems the use of human external cargo to be unsafe. Instead, Transport Canada recommends the use of rappelling into fires as the only safe method.
“By stopping fires early, these highly trained firefighters keep Albertans safe and actually save the province money,” said Dach. “These cuts will only cost the province more in the long-run and put the health and safety of Albertans at risk.”
Members of RAP are highly trained firefighters who rappel from helicopters into inaccessible areas to fight recently lit fires. They provide a vital initial response to forest fires, preventing fires from burning out of control.
“The UCP have decided to shoot first and aim later. As a result, we’ve just lost a vital part of our initial response to fight fires. This is as stupid as cutting emergency room doctors in the middle of a pandemic,” said Dach.
On April 14, the UCP also announced a ban for off-highway vehicles on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area. At the time, Premier Kenney said the ban was necessary “to protect public health, safety, and ultimately lives.” Just days later, the ban was lifted without any explanation or announcement by the government. This comes at a time when recent warm weather and dry spring conditions have increased the risk of wildfires.
“The answer is simple,” said Dach. “The UCP needs to roll back these changes. We can’t afford to put people’s homes and lives at risk. Especially in the middle of the pandemic.”