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Horgan reaffirms balanced budget amid rising wildfire costs

Last Updated Sep 26, 2017 at 6:57 am PST

Premier John Horgan suits up at the BC Professional Firefighters Association training facility in Vancouver on September 25, 2017. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130, Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Despite not knowing the final cost, Premier John Horgan says this year’s record wildfire season won’t burn a hole in the province’s next budget.

“I talked to (Finance Minister) Carole James about that as we laid out our fiscal plan last week and she’s confident that we’ll continue to be able to balance the budget and meet the extraordinary cost of suppression of the fires this year,” Horgan said, as he took part in training exercises with firefighters from across the province at the BC Professional Firefighters Association training facility in Vancouver.

The challenges will be dealing with the consequences for small businesses and the economy, according to Horgan, following the province rescinding of the state of emergency.

“Now the real work of rebuilding happens with those who lost their property and homes, but more importantly the impact on the economy,” Horgan said. “Agricultural and tourism loses, the season was a write-off. We’ve got a whole host of forestry-related issues. The softwood lumber agreement is just part of the challenge. Now we’ve got standing timber that will not be worth much in the long term.”

Wildfire fighting costs have reached a record high of more than $543 million so far this year.

In the future, the Union of BC Municipalities directors want the province to fund 100 per cent of wildfire mitigation, claiming the current formula doesn’t provide enough funding.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources says it’s looking to fast-track salvage logging permits for fire-ravaged areas in order to get people back to work. The ministry has already committed $140 million to wildfire risk reduction and reforestation through its 2017-2018 budget update.