With dry conditions and dozens of blazes already burning across Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday her government’s decision to slash the wildfire budget by $15 million this year won’t impact the province’s firefighting efforts.
The province was criticized this week after its budget showed cuts to tanker contracts by $5.1 million and its base wildfire management budget by $9.6 million, to about $100 million.
Notley chalked the matter up to simple budgetary practices that has the province earmark base funding, with the understanding firefighting efforts are covered in the province’s emergency budget.
“In no way, shape or form are we suggesting that we wouldn’t put every bit of resources that are required to ensure that fires are appropriately fought as they arise,” Notley told reporters at a Red Deer news conference. “This is the way these kinds of emergent and non-predictable costs are typically budgeted.”
Last year, the province spent $375 million fighting wildfires; none of that money was earmarked in the budget, but instead came directly from emergency funding.
But the tanker budget cut this year has meant some companies that have long provided firefighting services to the province have seen their contracts reduced from 123 days to 93 days.
After those contracts expire Aug. 16, the province will hire planes on case by case basis as needed, but critics say that could leave the government in a vulnerable position if companies look for longer-term contracts elsewhere.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said fighting forest fires is “one of the most important things we can do.”
Forestry “is one of our largest resources here in Alberta,” and should be protected, he said.