Canada’s Arctic — the coldest place in our country — is on fire.
Smoke is choking people in our biggest cities — forcing parents to keep their kids inside.
As I write this, the Northwest Territories is dealing with a wildfire crisis that has resulted in mass evacuations. The entire population of Yellowknife has been told they must leave. Fires in B.C. are also driving people from their homes.
I visited the K'atl'odeeche First Nation and Hay River just a few weeks ago. Chief April Martel showed me the crushing damage from the spring wildfire; the band office, elders’ homes and important infrastructure burned to the ground. An entire community devastated.
The climate crisis is real, and it is at our door. The federal government’s focus must be on supporting all communities dealing with these crises. There are many stories of Canadians helping each other get through this challenging time — we all expect our governments to work together to do the same.
I have been told by mayors and First Nations leaders that many communities are missing essential firefighting equipment. Just like we needed a national strategy to get enough masks and tests during the pandemic, we need a similar approach to firefighting resources — both people and equipment.
There must be better support for workers on the front lines, with additional training, better equipment — including a pooled emergency stockpile of wildfire fighting equipment — and more initial attack crews to extinguish fires before they spread. We must also increase the Firefighter Tax Credit to give these crucial front-line workers some financial help.
We should provide mental health supports for Canadians experiencing these traumatic events. Imagine the lasting trauma inflicted on families who had to evacuate from their home community, fleeing to another place like Yellowknife — only to be told to evacuate again.
A national climate disaster insurance program for high-risk properties and for damage not covered by private insurance would help protect many families, writes @theJagmeetSingh
We cannot underestimate the emotional toll on those affected, as well as the anxiety that comes with worrying about the next fire, flood or storm.
Ottawa will also have to support communities to rebuild. And to rebuild in ways that can help communities survive the fires, extreme weather and droughts that will, unfortunately, continue to happen.
Investments in long-term solutions will ensure communities are equipped for the future. Our communities can be made safer by increasing and expanding the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund — it is not right that some projects from rural communities are not eligible because the criteria are too strict.
I was recently told by the premier of the Northwest Territories that the territory needs a better road system to evacuate people. They need federal funding to address those issues — before more northerners lose their homes.
I have met with too many people who have no insurance to help them get back on their feet. A national climate disaster insurance program for high-risk properties and for damage not covered by private insurance would help protect many families. Support for Canadians to retrofit their homes to make them more resistant to wildfire, heat waves and floods is also critical.
There is a lot of work ahead of us, and we will not achieve it with half-measures or attempts to divide Canadians. The federal government must work with all levels of government and community leaders to ensure that when climate disasters strike, communities have the resources they need to protect themselves.
We must work together to address the climate crisis — both to reduce our emissions and increase renewable energy. It will not be enough to set ambitious targets. We must also have a plan to meet them and the investments that it takes to prevent even more catastrophic climate disasters.
We must ramp up efforts to make our homes and communities as safe as possible from the climate emergency that is threatening all of us. There is no more time to waste arguing over the science of climate change when the results are right in front of us.
The very real devastation that I have witnessed and the painful stories of Canadians who have lost their homes will never leave me.
We owe it to them — and to each other — to finally fight the climate crisis like we mean it.
Leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh is a lawyer, a human rights activist, and a former MPP in Ontario. Jagmeet understands the struggles Canadians are faced with because as a young man, he had to step up and take care of his family.