Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Increase in budget

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Alberta allocates more air resources in its 2024 budget by adding two helicopter contracts to the 130 existing ones which will be renewed.

  • Laurence Taschereau (View profile)Laurence Taschereau

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Alberta is investing $151 million over three years to improve wildfire management, particularly in terms of preparedness and planning. The first tranche, which will be used during this season, is valued at $55 million.

This budget increase will be used to strengthen firefighting capacity, after a year of unprecedented forest fires.

Part of the funding will be used to increase air resources by adding two helicopters, two air tankers and additional drones.

Todd Loewen points out that drones allow firefighters to obtain additional information that can be useful in preventing forest fires, particularly by flying over areas that are difficult to access or dangerous.

It's a step in the right direction, says Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) Executive Director Lisa MacLean, for whom the adoption of innovative technologies will make it possible to replace outdated tools.

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ELSEWHERE ON INFO: Shower of tributes for Paul Houde

The 2024 budget also provides funding for the hiring of 100 new forest firefighters, announced last month, adds the Minister Todd Loewen.

The government is not investing in the right place, believes the vice-president of the Union of Provincial Employees of the x27;Alberta (AUPE), James Gault.

According to him, there is a retention problem because working conditions are not as good as those in other provinces. Many will take their experience in Alberta and go work elsewhere afterwards, where they have benefits and better salaries.

Minister Loewen said that 50% of firefighters were returning for the 2024 season, making this year the best in terms of recruitment. However, Mr. Gault specifies that most of those who return have very little experience.

Some leaders of these teams only have one or two years of experience. The government expects them to lead new teams of 20 people during the worst forest fires.

A quote from James Gault, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees

He thinks that the Money should be invested to improve working conditions: When a young person goes to fight fires and ends up with some kind of lung problem, in the province of Alberta, there is no compensation for that.

As three-quarters of the $1.5 billion emergency disaster fund was used during the management of the 2023 wildfires, the province decided to increase it by $500 million for 2024-2025.

I think with a $2 billion reserve, we're starting this year in a good place, says Todd Loewen.

He also believes that the budget presented is adequate, because there is no way of knowing [if this year] will be better or not.

A response which does not satisfy the vice-president of the AUPE which represents the forest firefighters of the province. Minister Loewen said he hoped for significant snowfall. I think Albertans deserve better than to hope.

With information from Annie Verreault and Madeline Smith

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