Canada wildfires cover North America with huge toxic smog

By Steve Penner
July 3, 2023
Jashim Salam/NurPhoto via Zuma PressDangerous air quality in New York City June 8 from wildfires in Canada. Widespread destruction by fires is result of profit-driven priorities of capitalist rulers, indifference of government.

MONTREAL — In one of the worst wildfire seasons in Canada, over 2,600 forest fires have spread across the country, forcing more than 100,000 people to be evacuated from their homes. Hundreds of homes were destroyed as over 23,000 square miles of forest burned. The fires closed down or disrupted mining, oil and gas operations, as well as farms and small businesses.

A thick blanket of toxic smoke from the fires spread across much of Canada and the United States, affecting air quality for millions and disrupting air travel. More than 5,000 firefighters from the U.S., France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Portugal and Spain came to help control the fires.

On June 7, New York City registered the second most dangerous air quality worldwide, only behind New Delhi. Working people were enshrouded with an orange-grey fog that blotted out the daylight.

While the wildfire season in Canada usually runs from May through October, the number and scope of the fires, especially this early in the season, is highly unusual.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claims, “We’re seeing more and more of these fires because of climate change.” His views are echoed by other capitalist politicians and the big-business liberal media, who try to blame “climate change” for all of the disasters caused by the workings of capitalism.

However, some scientists and working-class voices like the Communist League have been explaining for years that totally inadequate forest management by Ottawa and its disdain for the consequences for working people would result in a catastrophe.

Following wildfires in 2017 a number of scientific reports called for serious upgrades in forest management, paid for by increased government spending. That never happened.

Parks Canada has only scheduled 23 controlled burns this year, compared to plans to burn or thin 4 million acres of federal land by Sept. 30 in the U.S. The discrepancy isn’t because Washington is more caring. The capitalist rulers in the U.S. have come under mounting pressure since the 153,000-acre Camp Fire wiped out the city of Paradise in 2018, killing 84 people and destroying 18,000 homes and buildings in the deadliest fire in California history.

Controlled fires are a crucial component of forest management planning. Clearing forests of the tinderbox of dead and small trees, dry shrubs and grass that fuel fires reduces the number and scope of deadly, uncontrollable blazes.

Ottawa’s reckless disregard for safety was exacerbated by an extremely dry winter with significantly less snow than usual, leading to even greater dangers of forest fires and widespread destruction.

The Globe and Mail wrote a 2021 editorial warning of the consequences if Ottawa failed to act. It was entitled “Canada’s massive wildfires are the result of decades of bad decisions.” These “bad decisions” are the product of the profit-driven priorities of the capitalist rulers.

This is compounded by the refusal of capitalist developers to cut profits by putting money into building homes with fire-resistant materials, at sufficient distances from forests and with enough space between units. Such measures are required to lessen the risks of living in fire-prone areas.

It is estimated that more than 12% of people in Canada, including nearly one-third of Indigenous people on reserves, live where the danger of forest fires is greatest.

‘Capitalist greed, gov’t indifference’

“Forest fires are a natural phenomena,” Félix Vincent Ardea, a conductor for Canadian National Railroad and Communist League candidate in the June 19 by-election in Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Westmount in Montreal, told the Militant.

“But the almost unprecedented scope of this year’s wildfires, and the devastation faced by tens of thousands of workers and farmers across Canada who have been forced to evacuate their homes and farms, is a product of the greed of capitalist corporations and the cynical indifference of a government that serves their interests, not those of working people.

“The unions need to fight to force the federal and provincial governments to immediately put into place an effective forest management, under workers control, backed by the necessary financial resources,” he said.

“Working people need to fight for a massive government-funded public works program to put thousands to work at union rates to rebuild housing and infrastructure destroyed by the fires.

“Through such a struggle working people will see ever more clearly that labor must break from the capitalist parties and build our own party, a labor party based on the unions, to fight to defend the class interests of workers and farmers.”