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COMMENT: BC First Nations and Municipalities Cheated

British Columbia’s forest-dependent First Nations Communities today called on the province’s municipalities to join the fight to get long- promised funding to address the pine-beetle exacerbated fire threats.


“First Nations have been cheated out of tens of millions of dollars that were promised to make their pine-beetle devastated communities safer from fires, but other municipalities have been cheated out of hundreds of millions,” said FNFC president Leonard Thomas.


“This is not just a First Nations battle,” said Mr. Thomas. “If the federal government had honored its pledge to BC, and the Province had honoured its commitment to us, then First Nations would have received $80 million by now to address the fire threats to our communities, and non-aboriginal communities would have received $320 million.”


The current catastrophic fires devouring much of BC are proof of the failure to properly prepare for the threat and of the failure to properly protect communities though forest fuel managed work. Had the federal government kept its promises, most of the more vulnerable communities now could be surrounded by protective firebreaks of up to two km. BC might not then, for example, have seen fires burning within a few hundred metes or less of communities such as Lillooet.


The province also has much explaining to do. It has not fought for this money or even protested the broken promise. “It is as if it sacrificed this funding for Northern and Interior BC, even if it meant seeing it burn, because it was more concerned with grabbing federal dollars for the Olympics and for transit projects in Vancouver,” Mr. Thomas said.


Mr. Thomas said Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a clear early-2006 election pledge in Prince George to provide $1 billion over 10 years to help BC address the pine beetle threat, and senior BC MPs and federal cabinet ministers repeated this pledge.


Yet his government allocated a total of only $200 million in its first two budgets before abandoning this pledge. It did not even transfer this money to BC for use on the pine beetle measures that had been identified, but instead managed the fund itself, squeezing out announcements over four years. Barely half has, or has yet to come to BC, and much of this going to construction projects in Conservative held ridings.


Some cities and towns might feel they have done well, as much of this BC funding was allocated to airports and bridges and art centres, but this represents only a small fraction of what was promises, and while these might worthy projects, they do not address the pine beetle or the fire threats.


“The bottom line is British Columbia municipalities have received only a fraction of what they were promised, and First Nations have received even less,” Mr. Thomas said. “The claim that the Community Adjustment Fund is replacing the pine beetle pledge is a joke. There is $60 million for all BC communities this year, more than 1,000 applications, and pine beetle issues are not a priority.


“Our shared challenge is to ensure the federal government and the province finally start providing the funding promised now to allow us to work after this fire season is over to make our communities safer next year, when the fire season might be even more devastating,” Mr. Thomas said.