The announced layoff of 34 seasonal firefighters as well as four warehouse staff by the Ministry of Natural Resources leaves many unanswered questions as to how well the Ministry can respond in the event of fire emergencies in the north and east.
The MNR told staff today it will no longer operate the fire bases in Kirkland Lake and Pembroke starting with the 2014 fire season. 34 Fire Management Program staff, most of them firefighters, are receiving notice they will not be recalled for work next year.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says that despite Ministry assurances that new seasonal positions will be located in "larger and more strategic" fire facilities, it leaves the communities of Kirkland Lake and Pembroke wondering how long response times will be when fires break out.
"The Ministry remains silent as to where these firefighters will be located and how long it will take to get them into position in Pembroke and Kirkland Lake areas when needed," Thomas said. "These communities will have to rely solely on local fire crews until Ministry support can arrive."
Thomas says that this is just another example of how the Liberal government is dismantling the management and protection of Ontario"s natural environment and abandoning its responsibilities to the people who live in rural and northern Ontario.
"Today we are seeing another example of what Ontario"s Environmental Commissioner recently characterized in his annual report as 'the deliberate dismantling of environmental protection built up over the past decades in the guise of MNR transformation,"" Thomas said. "Gord Miller warned of a 'nightmare scenario" resulting from the cuts and deregulation this government has implemented."
Miller said the combined budgets of the Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources are at their smallest share of the provincial budget in over 20 years.
The closure of the Kirkland Lake and Pembroke fire bases will result in the loss of 14 and 20 seasonal fire staff positions, respectively. Four full-time warehouse staff will be laid off in each of Chapleau, Cochrane, Wawa and Timmins.
Don Ford, OPSEU Communications 416-443-8888