It is ironic that our biggest tragedies can lead to our greatest triumphs.
This is undoubtedly the case in Fort McMurray. As the forest fire of gigantic proportions devoured parts of the town, the horrible consequences of that tragedy also aroused in the various segments of our society the enormous, heart-warming spirit of caring and solidarity that makes us all proud to be Canadian.
Yes. Pride is the emotion that stirs in us when public donations for the emergency relief efforts of the Red Cross reach millions and millions of dollars in a matter of days and we already know that those contributions will be matched by funding from the federal government.
Again, pride is the emotion we feel when the private sector also comes forward with offerings of cash and material assistance and we hear of the hundreds of individual acts of kindness that involve food, welcoming family homes and even a wedding dress.
And the positive effects of all of those initiatives are being multiplied by numerous individual and group fundraisers that restore our faith in humanity.
While we commend the professionals such as the firefighters and the disaster management personnel, we also recognize the valiant services of the thousands of official and unofficial volunteers whose yeoman response to this emergency gives true meaning to the implications of being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
On the one hand, we can be sure that our three levels of government will take this opportunity to evaluate the performance of our disaster management systems.
On the other hand, we also hope that our governments and specialists will carefully examine the role of climate change factors in the cause and evolution of this virulent forest fire.
Both those considerations are valuable tools for our future strategy of disaster prevention and mitigation. But there are other economic and political considerations that deserve focused and solution- oriented attention.
Let us begin with the economic considerations.
How do we respond to the stark reality of Alberta falling victim to the financial and social disaster inflicted on the province’s economy by the massive fire, at a time when that economy is still in the throes of the ongoing collapse of its energy sector?
In the face of that double attack on the future economic viability of Alberta, does it make financial sense to give substantial federal support to this province’s existing energy-based economy, for the sake of bringing urgent relief to the pressing needs of Albertans?
Put differently, should we find a delicate policy balance that (a) “manages” the risks of air, land and sea pollution from oil sands emissions, including specifically from our west-to-east delivery of tar-sands crude oil by pipeline or train, while at the same time (b) satisfying the objective of a nationally integrated energy strategy in which as many provinces as possible meet their energy needs with the help of Albertan crude?
Or, is it in our national interest to take this opportunity to save our country from the toxic effects of Alberta’s tar-sands oil, the largest source of Canada’s climate warming pollution? Is it time that we give higher priority to protection of the environment than to the “economic imperative” of marrying Alberta’s dependence on its tar-sands oil with our eastern provinces’ need for reasonably priced energy supplies?
Those are not easy questions to answer. But we do sense a possibility that the Fort McMurray disaster has improved the chances for an even stronger rapprochement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
We also dare to hope that the outpouring of federal and provincial solidarity with Alberta in the current circumstances will open the door to greater willingness to pursue more harmonious inter-provincial and federal / provincial relationships.
Let the principles of inter-dependence, equity and closer cooperation prevail.
To the aggrieved people of Fort McMurray, we extend our strongest expressions of empathy and solidarity and we feel proud to join in the nation-wide focus on relief and re-construction that is palpable from coast to coast to coast.
Fort McMurray, rest assured that all of Canada stands on guard for thee!