The BC NDP have long claimed to be the only party that speaks for workers. Increasingly we are seeing they cannot back up their claims.
They have failed to protect educators and healthcare workers from COVID-19 and as the climate crisis is causing more and larger wildfires, British Columbians who work outdoors will need their government to put in place policies that protect their health.
Jurisdictions such as Oregon have taken proactive measures. For example, requiring N95 masks, medical checks, paid breaks, and a heat illness prevention plan.
From the responses to my questions offered by the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Hon. Mike Farnworth, workers in British Columbia should be concerned. It is clear the BC NDP have not thought at all about this issue.
As we continue to talk about this unfolding health care crisis in British Columbia, it would be nice to see this B.C. NDP government proactively working on another, growing emergency, the climate emergency.
Last summer, climate disasters brought an unprecedented heat dome, a devastating wildfire that entirely destroyed the town of Lytton and a record-setting wildfire season darkening the skies of our province for months.
A recent study examining 20 years of health data in Canada found that people who lived near wildfires for the past decade were more likely to develop brain tumors and lung cancer. The worst three fire seasons on record in B.C. have occurred in the last decade. Last summer over 867,000 hectares of our province burned.
Wildfire smoke contains hundreds of dangerous particles, gases and chemicals, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Anyone who’s been exposed to wildfire smoke even hundreds of kilometres away from the source will know how unbearable air quality is and how difficult it is to breath.
To the Minister of Public Safety, in three of the five summers that he has been the minister, wildfire smoke has choked out our communities. What specific actions has his government taken to protect British Columbians from poor air quality?
Hon. M. Farnworth:
There are a number of initiatives that have been underway every fire season to ensure that we’re prepared as proactively as possible, whether it’s through the fire service, which is under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Forests, or through EMBC by ensuring that we’ve got the emergency social and health supports in place in communities where people are evacuated to. Overall, it is also ensuring that we have a climate action plan that is able to deal with the change in climate here in British Columbia, and we will continue to do the work.
Part of that, of course, is related to the overhaul of the Emergency Program Act that is currently underway.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.
As I suspected, our government is doing nothing to protect the air the workers are breathing from the impacts of wildfires. Today we’re celebrating the agricultural industry, people who work outside in the wildfire smoke.
We’re seeing other jurisdictions, though, take action, proactive measures. Oregon occupational safety and health created rules to protect workers from the impact of climate disasters, like heatwaves, like wildfire smoke. They mandated heat protections like paid breaks, drinking water, a heat illness prevention plan and access to shade. Wildfire protection measures specifically include N95 masks — the Minister of Health talked about, in estimates, having 18 or 19 million on hand — and, as well, medical checks.
The B.C. NDP government likes to think of themselves as the workers party, and yet they’ve not done anything to protect workers from the impact of climate change. They failed to protect schools. They failed to protect public spaces and have failed to put plans in place to protect British Columbians from the polluted air, the worst of which comes from these wildfire seasons.
My question is to the Premier. He says he is a friend of the worker. What is he doing to protect workers, including teachers, agricultural workers, construction workers and any other worker that works outside, from the poor air quality that we are seeing summer after summer as a result of wildfires?
Hon. M. Farnworth:
I appreciate the question from the member. I want to take in that no government takes workers’ occupational health and safety more seriously than this side of the House, whether it’s ensuring that we’ve increased the standards in terms of the removal of asbestos or whether it’s ensuring that we have some of the toughest health and safety standards and WorkSafe standards of any province and any jurisdiction in this country. It’s ensuring that when firefighters go out to work, they’ve got the presumptive cancer security systems in place. We’ve done that. Sometimes the opposition has done that. But all of us in this House have taken that very seriously.
At the same time, we ensure that when our fire crews go out on those front lines in fighting fires, they have the protective equipment that they need. That’s always been the case with the fire service, and it will always continue to be the case. So to suggest that that is not happening is absolutely not true.