Trudeau turns down foreign wildfire help

Fort McMurray Abasands
The burnout remains of a home in the Abasands neighbourhood is seen during a media tour of the fire-damaged city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on Monday, May 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

OTTAWA – Russia, the U.S., Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have all offered help in fighting the northern Alberta wildfire, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there’s no need for international assistance.

Last week Vladimir Puchkov, the Russian minister of emergency measures, offered to send heavy water bombers and specialized crews to battle the fire that’s been raging out of control near Fort McMurray.

A number of other offers have also been made since the crisis emerged last week and they have been reviewed against requirements, said John Babcock, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada.

Canada sincerely appreciates the international support, but it isn’t necessary, Trudeau told a news conference Monday. Water bombers and firefighters from other provinces, including Ontario, B.C., Quebec and New Brunswick, are getting a handle on the situation, he added.

“There is no doubt that people around the world have been marked by this disaster and have been very generous in their offers of support, but the reality is with all of the assistance of people across this country, we don’t need help from other countries at this time,” he said in French.

Accepting international disaster assistance would not set a precedent and has happened in the past, but Babcock didn’t provide examples.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canadian authorities have a handle on the crisis and what’s truly needed is a break in the weather.

“The decision was made by the firefighters in the emergency management system that (foreign help) wasn’t necessary because of the nature of this blaze,” Goodale said following question period.

“This beast is so big the only thing that will fix it is rain.”

The economic impact of the fire, both at the local and national level, will take some to time to shake out, Trudeau said. In the meantime, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is working with oil companies to understand how the shut down of production has impacted them and what can be done to get things moving swiftly.

Carr said in the Commons that the production of 1.5 million barrels per day has been affected by the fire, although it was not having an impact on oil prices or supply due the current North American oil glut.

Carr said he’s spoken already with industry players and would be speaking with Alberta’s energy minister later in the day.

The government knows that “the oil sector will continue to be a very important part of the Canadian economy,” said the minister.

But Conservative energy critic Candice Bergen said Carr should have visited the area already, and questioned why he has yet to sit down with senior executives from the six oilsands producers who operate around Fort McMurray.

“The minister of natural resources hasn’t said ‘boo’ about this, nor has he visited the region,” Bergen said outside the House.

She said eight per cent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from the area and Carr should be planning ahead.

Trudeau also faced questions Monday on what sort of plans there might be for long-term reconstruction in the community where over 1,600 homes have been destroyed and municipal infrastructure weakened.

Trudeau said they’ll have more to say when the extent of the disaster is fully appreciated.

“Right now we are being the partner that the province, the municipality, and Albertans need for Ottawa to be,” he said.

“We are working every step of the way with our partners. We are in tight communication with the premier, with the mayor, whom I spoke to on the weekend, and we are there for the needs of the community devastated by this terrible incident. And I know there will be lots of discussions in the coming days and weeks about what we need to do to rebuild Fort McMurray, but I can ensure and reassure Alberta that all Canadians will be there.”

—With files from Bruce Cheadle