Fair wages, not smoke and mirrors: NDP demands Ford Government address firefighter retention crisis

Ontario NDP MPP Guy Bourgouin (Mushkegowuk— James Bay), Official Opposition critic for Natural Resources and Forestry, and Lise Vaugeois (Thunder Bay—Superior North) are calling out the Ford Conservatives for their disregard for the dedicated Wildland firefighters who have been courageously engaging in life-threatening work, on behalf of the people of Ontario.

Last week, the Ford Conservatives held a press conference concerning Wildland Firefighting that excluded frontline forest fire workers. Fire rangers are seeking a job reclassification – a change needed to rebuild the Wildland Fire service that otherwise leaves the province vulnerable as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of forest fires.

“It’s disheartening to witness the government’s false and misleading statements,” said Bourgouin. “They claim their hands are tied when it comes to addressing the concerns of forest fire workers, but the Minister could reclassify workers with the stroke of a pen, granting them benefits, better pay, and the full-time jobs that help to build the level of experience needed to safely handle forest fires.”

This year in Ontario, Fire Rangers were short 50 crews, employing 120-150 fewer Fire Rangers now than in 2019. Full-time positions are also few and far between. “Why would anyone be willing to risk their life for a meagre $22 an hour of short-term contract work with no benefits and no opportunities to make a career of wildland firefighting?” asked Vaugeois.

“The government should offer better salaries, put forward incentives to bring back experienced FireRangers, and give forest firefighters the same WSIB coverage as regular firefighters,” Vaugeois said. “Firefighters, especially wildland firefighters, need the same WSIB coverage that acknowledges their exposure to carcinogens. The Ford government must prioritize their safety and well-being and the long-term health of Ontario’s wildland firefighting capacity.”

“While our essential workers sacrificed and our province burned, the Ford Government was content watching it unfold from their cottages,” added Bourgouin. “Instead of recruiting local firefighters, they opted for a last-minute cheaper alternative in Mexico- all while hoarding billions of dollars from Ontario taxpayers. The government must correct the situation before more communities are displaced, and lives are lost and prioritize the interest of Ontarians first.”

Ontario NDP