Nova Scotia wildfires will bring even more hardship for workers

By Kaley Kennedy, Suzanne MacNeil

Wildfires are burning in several areas of Nova Scotia. A fire near the Halifax-area suburbs of Tantallon, Hammonds Plains and the historic Nova Scotia African community of Lucasville has prompted the evacuation of 15,000 people. Covering more than 17,000 hectares, the wildfire in the southwestern region of Nova Scotia is the largest fire in Nova Scotia’s history.

The huge fires in the southwest of the province were, for a time, confined mainly to wooded areas, but by Wednesday they had reached the township of Shelburne and areas where fishing boats dock.

Fires affect housing, child care, education and health care

These fires are going to aggravate many other crises in Nova Scotia.

The fires have destroyed several dozen homes. In the Halifax area, more than 150 homes have gone. Tenants who have lost their homes will need help finding new homes in a context where there is no other housing. Homeowners will need temporary housing for many months, further exacerbating the housing crisis.

The Tantallon fire has destroyed two day care centers and affected dozens of families in an environment where parents are already desperate for childcare spaces.

A third of striking Halifax education workers, members of CUPE 5047, have been evacuated from their homes or remain on evacuation notice, ready to evacuate with just a 30-minute warning. All while continuing to fight the Conservative government for a fair deal.

Nursing home residents in the Tantallon and Shelburne areas have been evacuated, putting a strain on an already overburdened long-term care system.

Hospital patients in the Shelburne area were also evacuated. And in an already stretched health care system, area residents will have to travel to Queens, Yarmouth or Lunenburg to access emergency medical care while their local hospital is closed.

Impact on fishing, temporary workers and migrant workers

There is concern about the impact of the fires on lobster fishing, a main source of income for many people in the Southwest. Many fishermen who fish outside the region are also volunteer firefighters fighting fires in their community. The evacuation area also includes lobster hatcheries, further threatening the catch.

There is talk of extending the season to catch up fishermen and processing workers, though that’s only helpful if the fire hasn’t affected boats or infrastructure.

It will almost definitely hurt the ability of temporary workers to access EI after the season ends, an issue many are already struggling with in seasons not affected by the fires.

While not much attention has been paid so far to the impact on migrant workers in fishing and agriculture in the area, these workers also expect to face significant hardship.

Climate change at the root of the fires

Wildfires of this size, severity, and frequency are unprecedented in Nova Scotia. Still, as climate change continues to wreak havoc on our communities, we can expect this to become the new norm.

The increase in extreme weather events has created dangerous conditions. A large number of trees were downed throughout Nova Scotia by Hurricane Fiona, fueling wildfires. This is combined with a dry winter and spring, including the driest April on record. Nova Scotia has had more wildfires this year than last year, and the calendar has only shifted to June.

Climate change continues to be driven by corporations and governments that are unwilling to take decisive action. But when natural disasters devastate our communities, workers and our families often pay the price.

The Nova Scotia wildfires highlight the importance of public services. Our public fire departments, equipment, first responders and infrastructure are fighting the fires and supporting those affected, not the billionaire bosses. And these fires also show the ability of communities to work together in solidarity. The response would be impossible without the volunteers putting out fires, making food for the people, opening their homes to people who have been displaced, and so many other solidarity actions.

Let’s build on that solidarity and demand a system where workers are not forced to pay for the destruction caused by corporate greed.

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