Ontario budget 2024: Concern raised about efforts to deal with wildfires, disasters

Experts say 2023 was the warmest year on record. CityNews reporter Leah Johansen is taking a look at some of the extreme climate events across Canada this year and the dire predictions for 2024.

On the back of a devastating wildfire season across Canada in 2023, the Green Party of Ontario leader says there isn’t enough contained in the 2024 provincial budget to help prepare for the months ahead.

“We’re woefully unprepared for firefighting season, for flooding, for draught, for climate-fueled, extreme weather threats,” Mike Schreiner, who also represents the riding of Guelph, said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“It isn’t even mentioned in the budget that they would have a plan to protect our lives, livelihood and property from the increasing severity and frequency of climate-fueled weather events.”

In 2022-2023, the Ontario government spent $95 million but it jumped to $216 million in 2023-2024.

Last year, an unusually warm and dry winter in much of Canada set the stage for a wildfire season that led to 200,000 people fleeing their homes. The fires, which at times saw intense smoke go south into the United States, were voted the top Canadian Press news story of 2023.

However, in the 2024-2025 budget, just $135 million was set aside to have on hand for combatting wildfires. Officials called the figure a baseline and said contingency funds could be accessed.

Schreiner said he’s concerned with projections 2024 could have a worse impact

“If you talk to wildland firefighters, they will tell you that the money is much better if we properly prepare ahead of time rather than reacting after (and) in last year’s case, a million acres are on fire,” he said.

“We need to start treating wildland firefighters with the respect they deserve and classify them as firefighters so they have access to better pay and better health benefits, especially presumptive health legislation for things like cancer on the job.”

In the budget, officials committed to spending $30 million over three years to help fire departments buy protective equipment. They also touted $5 million to help communities across Ontario buy “critical supplies” and provide training to respond to natural disasters.

With files from The Canadian Press

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