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Government of Alberta

Fire, Folly, and Finger-Pointing: Premier Smith’s Smoke Signals Deflect From True Cause of Wildfires

Alberta's Premier suggests an odd approach to stop devastating wildfires: convincing China and India to burn Alberta's natural gas to combat climate change. Huh?

It’s no surprise that the Canadian Press news story of 2023 was about the unprecedented wildfires that burned from coast to coast.

In total, 18.5 million hectares, an area roughly one-third of the land mass of Alberta, ravaged Canada.

The wildfire season started early, with residents of Evansburg, a hamlet west of Edmonton, being the first of many communities forced to evacuate on April 29.

And it just got worse from there. By the end of May, wildfires spread through Nova Scotia, forcing the evacuation of parts of Halifax.

“If Halifax can burn, any place can burn, and that blows all our minds,” said John Vaillant, author of the award-winning “Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast.”

On June 8,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the House of Commons, “Canada is burning.” 

Experts from across the country blamed the early and devastating wildfire season on a changing climate where drought and record heat fueled wildfires across Canada.

Meanwhile, in Alberta

In an interview in June, Ryan Jespersen asked Danielle Smith on his Real Talk podcast how the Premier reconciles her government’s energy policies with so many experts linking the extreme fire season to climate change.

Alberta burns in 2023, but was it from arson? | Government of Alberta

Smith’s response?

She blamed arsonists for the majority of the one million hectares of wildfires burning at the time.

“We are bringing in arson investigators from outside the province,” she said. “We have almost 175 fires with no known cause at the moment. Sometimes, they are very easy to trace — when you have lightning storms, it’s easy to trace. When you have a train derailment, that’s easy to trace.”

When Jespersen pressed Smith for more details about whether the hot and dry conditions, which are conducive to the spread of fires, were linked to climate change, Smith deflected. 

Instead, she suggested that the Alberta government should focus on improving the construction of fireguards around communities.

“You have to make sure when a forest fire begins that it doesn’t jump over into a town or a city because that’s when you end up with real trouble,” she said. “I think we did a fantastic job this time around.”

The Finger Pointing Pattern

Premier Smith’s (non) response about wildfires fits her pattern for dealing with criticism. Anytime someone asks her an inconvenient question, she simply changes the topic, moves on, or lays blame elsewhere.

We would not have to deal with this in Alberta if only China and India would burn our natural gas! | Government of Alberta

Her November 16 appearance on CBC’s “The Current” with Matt Galloway is a case in point.

When Galloway brought up the historic wildfire situation, the incredible amount of smoke, and the Alberta communities evacuated, he asked Smith, “How urgent of an issue is climate change for you?

Her response?

“Well, it’s why we’ve got an emissions reduction and an energy development plan that does set a path to net zero by 2050”

Galloway then asked, “Do you feel that it meets the urgency of what you saw this summer?”

“I can tell you what it means, the urgency of what we’re seeing in all of our partners. China’s not setting a target until 2060. They’re the biggest producer of emissions. India is not setting a target till 2070,” said Smith. 

“I mean, we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that India and China are able to accelerate their plans. And I think they can accelerate their plans if we work out arrangements with them to use our cleaner-burning natural gas to displace their coal and their wood…”

So… if we can only get China and India to burn Alberta natural gas… then climate change and wildfire issues will be solved?

Huh?

So Was it Arson?

Ok, what did the province’s arson investigation turn up?

May 6 wildfire in Northern Alberta | X

Were most of the wildfires in Alberta caused by people?

By the end of the official wildfire season in late October, 2.2 million hectares of Alberta were burned, almost doubling the previous record set in 1981, when 1.3 million hectares burned.

Of a total of 1,121 wildfires that were counted as of December 5, 91 were deemed to be caused by arson, affecting a total of 262 hectares. 

That area represents about 0.01 percent of the total land burned.

Forestry and Parks spokesperson Pam Davidson told Postmedia, “None of the large-scale wildfires that threatened communities in Alberta this season were determined to be caused by arson. More than 70 percent of large wildfires were caused by lightning.” 

As of December 15, 44 fires were still under investigation.

Maybe those were caused by arsonists from China and India?

Or will Smith pick out someone new to blame?

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