Earlier this week, Devin Dreeshen, minster of agriculture and forestry, announced that the province will spend $5 million to hire 200 firefighters this wildfire season.
Last October, Dreeshen’s ministry cut its budget by almost 10%, eliminating $88 million in spending. By the time the next provincial election arrives in 2023, the ministry will have cut spending by 15% from 2018–19 levels.
Wildfire Alberta itself took on more than a quarter of that cut alone, at $23 million—from about $141 million to $117.6 million. That came at the expense of their entire rappelling team of 63 firefighters, 15 wildfire observers, and an air tanker.
Plus, they eliminated wildfire fighting from their contingency, disaster, and emergency assistance budget, starting in the 2020–21 budget. It had been budgeted at $485 million in the previous budget.
And although they replaced it with a general contingency budget, it’s still $450 million short of what they forecasted to spend in total on disaster and emergency assistance.
The 200 firefighters the province is hiring will be ground support. No increase to air tanker, rappelling, or lookout tower crews.
So, while it’s great that we will have $5 million more in the firefighting budget than we were going to have—we’re still $18 million short, compared to where we were prior to last autumn.