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Ford refuses calls to link wildfires to climate change

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declined on Wednesday to make a connection between forest fires and climate change. He then accused the NDP of trying to politicize the situation. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ontario Premier Doug Ford declined on Wednesday to make a connection between forest fires and climate change. He then accused the NDP of trying to politicize the situation. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Opposition parties are calling on the Ontario government to make a link between forest fires and climate change as smoke from the blazes continues to leave a grey haze over the province.

In question period on Wednesday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles asked Premier Doug Ford whether he would agree that the climate emergency is making the fire season worse in Ontario this year.

"Will the premier show some leadership today and act on the climate emergency?" she asked.

Ford replied: "I'm actually in shock that the Leader of the Opposition is politicizing wildfires. It's staggering, really. But nothing surprises me with the opposition."

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Ford said he has been told that 50 per cent of the fires are started by lightning strikes, while the other 50 per cent are started by campfires not put out by people who started them.

"So I'm asking every Ontarian: Please do not light any campfires. We're out there—all the firefighters are out there, I should say—fighting against these wildfires."

Stiles, for her part, said after question period that she thought it was unfortunate that Ford refused to see forest fires in a larger environmental context.

"I asked the premier today to just simply go on record and acknowledge that ... climate change is real, that the fires that we're seeing across this province, especially on a day like today, which is Clean Air Day, ironically, that this is linked to climate change," she said.

"I want the government to do that because I want the premier to acknowledge that they have a responsibility in how we're going to mitigate climate change."

Andrew Lahodynskyj/Canadian Press
Andrew Lahodynskyj/Canadian Press

Government knows climate change is 'real': minister

Much of the province is under a fire ban, though not all of it. Opposition MPPs say the fire ban should cover the entire province.

Graydon Smith, minister of natural resources and forestry, told reporters the province implements fire bans on Crown land, and municipalities can assess their own situations.

"Throughout most of eastern, central, northeast and northwest Ontario, there is a fire restriction and ban in place," he said.

"But I think the message to everybody is clear that this is a very delicate situation, people need to take a level of personal responsibility. The rules apply to them, they need to make sure that they're following them to ensure that we do not have any unintentionally set, man-made fires."

Graydon, however, said the government acknowledges that climate change is "real and happening."

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Climate change making fires worse, MPP says

Liberal MPP Stephen Blais, who represents Orléans, said the ban on campfires should apply to all of Ontario and that climate change is making the fires worse.

"You have air quality that is off the charts in the nation's capital. There is a forest fire an hour and a half outside of Ottawa. The government is still refusing to do a fire ban in the provincial park on the edge of the city of Ottawa. That's bonkers. The government doesn't have the situation under control," he said.

Ontario has 142 fire ranger crews and a fleet of 28 aircraft to fight fires, including nine heavy water bombers. Four water bombers from Minnesota are assisting right now.

The ministry of natural resources and forestry said there are 54 active fires, including 29 not under control. As of Wednesday morning, 13 new fires had been discovered and fire rangers extinguished six fires on Tuesday.

Environment Canada shows moderate, high or very high air quality risks across most of the province, with values especially high in eastern Ontario. Officials have said much of the smoke seen in Ontario is coming from wildfires in Quebec.