This was a week in which residents of Eastern Canada’s three largest cities – Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal – experienced a phenomenon that has become all too familiar to anyone living in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
[Read: ‘How Could This Happen?’: Canadian Fires Burning Where They Rarely Have Before]
At the time of writing, it was not yet clear when the smoke that burned the eyes, tightened the throat, undid the events and the fires that generated it would end. But a train ride to Toronto from Ottawa earlier this week provided a dramatic demonstration of its effect. When I left for the station, Ottawa smelled like it was on fire. And for most of the trip, the sun was just a dime overhead in a largely gray world. But about 45 minutes from Toronto Union Station, bright sunshine and blue skies reappeared.
Toronto’s run was short-lived, even though, at least as of Friday, it had failed to match Ottawa’s previous intensity. At one point conditions in the capital were far off the scale used by Environment Canada to rate dangerous air quality. The effects of smoking naturally extended to the United States as well.
[Read: Canada’s Ability to Prevent Forest Fires Lags Behind the Need]
[Read: Will Wildfires Like These Become the New Normal?]
[Read: How to Help Thousands of Canadians Displaced by Wildfires]
As was the case at the height of the fire that brought widespread destruction to Fort McMurray, Alberta, in 2016 or the one that incinerated Lytton, British Columbia, less than two years ago, there has been only a limited amount of discussion about how globalization warming significantly increases the chances of serious fires. This is something Somini Sengupta, the Times’ international climate correspondent, explored in detail again this week.
[Read: Record Pollution and Heat Herald a Season of Climate Extremes]
In short, and as one would expect, increasingly drier and hotter conditions are turning forests and their understory into highly flammable tinder.
While fires in Quebec were the main source of smoke, Ottawa was particularly plagued by wildfires out west, including some in an Ontario provincial park.
As the Blue Jays closed their stadium dome for the game against the Houston Astros and school breaks were moved indoors while outdoor sporting events across the province were canceled, Marit Stiles, opposition leader and New Democratic chief Provincial party, and Mike Schreiner, leader of the province’s relatively small Green Party, has sought to link bad air to the climate policies of Doug Ford, Ontario’s progressive conservative premier.
One of the first things Mr Ford did after taking office in 2018 was spend C$230 million to cancel hundreds of renewable energy projects, claiming they were too expensive. « I’m so proud of this » he boasted later.
His government is now watching expansion of gas-fired power plants to cope with periods of high electricity demand.
Mr. Ford also abolished the province’s carbon tax program, which was technically a cap-and-trade system, and spent millions of dollars in an unsuccessful court battle against the federal government’s decision to move and impose one on the Ontario. That battle included a time when Mr. Ford’s government required gas stations to be installed anti carbon tax stickers on their pumps. Eventually a court ruled it illegal and, in any case, the stickers had a tendency to peel off. (This year the province introduced a carbon pricing systemwhich carefully avoids referring to a tax, for industry.)
Now Mr. Ford is moving forward with a plan to transform parts of the green belt around the Toronto area which Ms. Stiles has called a « carbon sink » for developers to convert into housing and to build a freeway through a large portion of It. Under Mr. Ford, Ontario also ended subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles.
[Read: ‘It’s Our Central Park’: Uproar Rises Over Location of New Toronto Homes]
When Ms Stiles asked Mr Ford in the legislature if he would « acknowledge that the climate emergency is making fire season worse, » the premier said he was « politicising wildfires. » He went on to list all of the resources Ontario had committed to fighting the fires.
When Ms. Stiles tried a second time, Mr. Ford again avoided acknowledging climate change as a factor. But he proposed other potential causes.
« One report I’ve heard, about 50 percent of fires are started by lightning, » he told the lawmaker. « 50% is caused by people starting fires and not putting them out properly. »
Norimitsu Onishi traveled to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, to see how the Canadian military is turning to Inuit to learn survival strategies in the Arctic. Nasuna Stuart-Ulin, who lives in Montreal, also immortalized the trip with extraordinary photographs.
Dan Bilefsky was in Castlegar, British Columbia, to tell the story of how the invasion of Ukraine spurred soul searching among the Doukhobors, a pacifist religious group who emigrated to Canada from Tsarist Russia.
In his timely review of « Fire Weather: A True Story From a Hotter World, » a book about the fire at Fort McMurray by John Vaillant, David Enrich writes that « the catastrophe which devastated Fort McMurray is probably a harbinger of what lies ahead. » Wait ».
Also in the Book Review, Gina Chua writes that “Pageboy: A Memoir” by Elliot Page, the Nova Scotia actor, “doesn’t really delve into issues of masculinity, or what it means to be a man, but brings to life the visceral sense of gender dysphoria, or at least one type of dysphoria: the feeling that your body is failing you. » Simply put, « It’s a completely alien feeling to those who haven’t experienced it. »
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has written about Canada for the New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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