You are here

Disorganization and denial: UCP response to wildfire disaster

John Bell

May 7, 2023

(Photo above: UCP supporters will believe the silliest conspiracy theories rather than the plain truth: This is climate change in action)

"The CBC has reached out to [premier] Smith for comment on the wildfire situation across the province. The premier's office is working on a response." (May 6)

This actual quote from news coverage of disastrous wildfires burning across drought-stricken Alberta speaks volumes about Danielle Smith’s UCP government.

So does this tweet from a retired north Alberta resident and volunteer firefighter: “What in Holy Hell is are UCP doing to both mitigate and communicate our wildfire situation? I was involved with the Swan Hills, Slave Lake and Fort Mac fires. Good communication, good resources, mutual aid coordinated. These people are doing NOTHING!!!”­

On the evening of May 5, the government emergency response website crashed. They tweeted the following:

“Due to high demand, the Emergency Alert website may be temporarily unavailable for some users. We’re working to address this as fast as we can.” They then post a link back to their non-functioning website.

This left endangered Albertans to wonder what use an Emergency Alert system is if can’t handle emergencies. The site was restored several hours later, too late for some evacuating communities.

Much of what appears to be disorganization is the result of deliberate budget cuts to public services, including firefighting. In 2019, while Jason Kenney was still premier, the UCP cut the budget for the province’s highly-trained Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program and its 65 personnel. 

In addition to those direct layoffs, insiders say that the government has dragged its feet in hiring to replace the many experienced firefighters who have retired or left for jobs in other places.

In 2020 they cut funding to train volunteer firefighters, crucial for dealing with remote wildfires. At the time the Association of Fire Chiefs of Alberta warned: "The elimination of this training grant will directly impact volunteer departments already under stress in both small communities and rural communities.”

Last year they quietly cut the length of what they recognize as “fire season”. Previously this extended from March 1 to October 31, and firefighting equipment and personnel were ready to respond during that time. To save money the UCP decided “fire season” should be just 4 months beginning in June. Some of the worst fires in the province’s history have occurred in May, including the disastrous Fort McMurray fire of 2019.

The UCP rolled the dice that fire season would be short and mild. Snake-eyes. They should have consulted their own base. In March, the Alberta Farm Express warned: “no end in sight for deadly drought.”

Or they could have looked at their own government webpage that monitors drought conditions, that has this to say: “As of April 27. Soil moisture reserves are generally below normal across most of the province with many widely scattered pockets of one in 50-year lows being present across much of the Central, North West and North East regions.” 

Or maybe they could have stuck their heads outside when their province has been experiencing a record-setting heat wave with temperatures into the 30s Celsius. 

Conditions are perfect for one of the worst fire seasons in Alberta history. So far some 25,000 Albertans have been evacuated from their communities, the town of Edson being the latest. Smith belatedly declared a state of emergency, in part caused by her own cuts.

All this is emblematic of the UCP’s chaotic response to a disaster deeply rooted in something they steadfastly deny exists: climate change. 

Smith and the UCP are slavishly addicted to tarsands oil and gas. Anything that might interfere with O&G profits is the work of the devil, or of Trudeau which is pretty much the same thing.Their vaunted “Sovereignty Act” is designed precisely to sabotage even the most timid environmental regulations imposed by the federal government.

But this façade of Alberta independence is exposed by the state of emergency itself, which relies on resources and personnel being sent from neighbouring provinces and states, and relief funding from the federal government.

As usual, UCP true-believers are ready to blame anything – no matter how ridiculous – other than this combination of budget cuts and climate change.

Some have suggested that because the fires are occurring in UCP-supporting areas, the fires are being deliberately set by NDPers to discredit Smith during an election campaign. Others charge they are being set by Indigenous people to drive out whites, although the fact that Indigenous communities are often the hardest hit is never acknowledged.

And the far right Rebel News is reporting that, because the federal government has equity hiring requirements, somehow Trudeau and “the gays” are responsible for the fires.

Truth be told, Ottawa and Trudeau do bear some responsibility, but not in the way Rebel and the UCP want to spin it. The federal government continues to prop up the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $ billion annually, fails to meet its own too-feeble carbon reduction targets, and promotes false solutions like electric vehicles as the solution to climate change. And the most recent Trudeau budget called for a 3% cut to all federal programs, including firefighting resources.

But make no mistake: Smith and her UCP gang have earned most of the blame for the disasters playing out in Alberta.


Featured Event



Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel