UPDATED AT 10:11 PM EDT Saturday, Oct. 4, 2003 Vancouver – British Columbia has appointed a former Manitoba premier to head a review of the province’s response to the summer wildfire crisis. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced Saturday that Gary Filmon will conduct the review to assess what can be learned from the experience. “I have said to Filmon that this is a no-holds-barred review,” said Mr. Campbell. “It is in his hands.”
Mr. Campbell said Mr. Filmon is ideally qualified because he dealt with Manitoba’s worst wildfires in 1989 during his tenure as premier. “I wanted to ask someone to head up the review who had experience in public policy,” he said. Mr. Filmon said he hopes his Manitoba experience will help the review run smoothly.
“I think I bring the viewpoint of an engineer where we like to identify problems and seek solutions and I also bring the viewpoint of somebody who spent 25 years in public office,” he said.
Mr. Campbell said the review will be completed by Feb. 15 so new measures can be adopted before the 2004 fire season. The review will focus on preventing a repeat of the disastrous wildfire season that swept through British Columbia over the summer, incinerating 334 homes and more than 2,600 square kilometres of forest.
At the peak of the crisis, more than 50,000 people were evacuated from their homes, most notably from Kelowna and the northern B.C. community of Louis Creek, which was burned to the ground by wildfire. Mr. Campbell said the report will also create a tighter structure for provincial and municipal governments to deal with fire emergencies and provide a better strategy to release fire information and to seek federal aid.
“This is an opportunity for all of us to learn,” said Mr. Campbell. “I am hoping that we hear what we did well but I’m also hoping that we will hear what we could have done better.” The report will also look at how to deal with massive donations for fire victims, said Mr. Campbell. “Can we be more effective at making sure that the outpouring of support can be put to more effective use? It’s not meant in any way to undermine what was done.”
Canadians demonstrated enormous generosity for fire victims but much of it went to waste because response greatly outstripped the need. Mr. Filmon said his review will include consultations with firefighters and B.C. First Nations, public meetings in the communities that were affected, and will also accept written submissions from the public at large. “I’m here with an open mind . . . I intend to hear from anyone who wants tobe heard,” he said.
At least one Kelowna city councillor was pleased with the announcement. “That’s good news, very good news,” said Sharon Shepherd. “Hopefully, we’ll all come out of this better informed. I think everyone will be pleased this is happening.”
She said she had received a number of calls of concern before asking for an investigation into how the Okanagan Mountain Park fire was handled. “After I raised the question, I had many calls on what direction the review would take,” she said. “I know there are many in the community who would like to have that opportunity.” A budget of $500,000 has been set aside but more may be needed, Mr. Campbell said.
About $100,000 of that will go to Mr. Filmon’s salary, sparking criticism from B.C. NDP Leader Joy MacPhail. “Being paid $100,000 for four months work . . . does seem to put into question what can be done on the ground in the investigation,” she said Saturday.
But Bill Kershaw, an elected representative for Louis Creek and nearby Barriere, said he had no problem with the review process, or its price tag. “At least [Mr. Filmon is] totally independent from everybody around here,” he said. “You can carry these [reviews] on forever or just set a deadline and get it done.”
Mr. Kershaw added that Barriere and Louis Creek are in need of provincial aid to help keep the area from becoming a ghost town, after an announcement last week that a sawmill destroyed by fire would not be rebuilt. “There are going to be some who will leave, they have to find work,” said Mr. Kershaw. “We’re going to lose [workers] we don’t want to, namely the young people with their families.”