NANAIMO, B.C. — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is promising to inject a "modest" $9 million into natural disaster prevention and relief as Western Canada reels from one of its worst wildfire seasons on record.
Mulcair campaigned Tuesday in British Columbia, where days ago a raging blaze tore through the province's Interior, destroying dozens of homes and forcing hundreds to flee at a moment's notice.
During a stop on Vancouver Island, Mulcair committed to restoring $7 million in annual funding to a Joint Emergency Preparedness Program to bolster training and equipment against natural disasters.
"An NDP government will assist provinces to keep Canadians safe from fires and floods as the effects of climate change worsen," said Mulcair.
He made the announcement outside a regional park on Vancouver Island, flanked by a troop of local NDP candidates and members of the Nanaimo Fire Department.
A New Democrat government would sit down with the provinces and territories to discuss strengthening how financial assistance is provided in disaster situations, he said. An additional $2 million would be earmarked for disaster training programs, which he says were cut under the Harper administration.
Mulcair took the opportunity to slam the Conservatives' record on disaster relief, accusing the government of making it unnecessarily difficult for provinces to apply for emergency funding.
"Stephen Harper's plan isn't working...He's left Canadians at risk," said Mulcair. "It's going to take a lot more than a Conservative photo-op to protect Canadian communities."
The party aims to pick up the majority of seats on Vancouver Island, where MP retirements and rejigged riding lines have left many of the seven electoral districts as dead-heat races between the Tories and the NDP.
The party is hoping to ward off an upset in Victoria, where well-known former CBC Radio host Jo-Ann Roberts is running for the Greens.
The Green party finished a strong runner-up in the riding during the 2011 election and is vying this go-round to send its second MP to Parliament. The Greens held two seats at dissolution, one belonging to Bruce Hyer, who was elected as a New Democrat in northern Ontario but crossed the floor.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May is expected to hold onto her seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands.
Mulcair later travelled up Island to Parksville to rally a crowd of orange-clad, sign-toting NDP supporters who had gathered to welcome the party leader.
When asked about the threat posed by the Greens in splitting the anti-Harper vote, Mulcair encouraged Green supporters to consider voting New Democrat, insisting his party is the only one with a chance at replacing the Conservative government.
"On issues involving the environment there are often very few differences between Elizabeth May and me because people know that I have such a strong track record," he said, referencing sustainable development legislation he introduced while serving as a provincial politician in Quebec.
"My priority is to defeat and replace Stephen Harper. Full stop."
Top of mind for many Island voters is energy giant Kinder Morgan's $5.4-billion proposal to twin a pipeline carrying bitumen from Edmonton to Metro Vancouver, which would increase tanker traffic in the area nearly seven-fold, from five to 34.
Sticking to his line from the leaders' debate earlier this month, Mulcair wouldn't say whether the NDP supported or opposed the controversial project.
"It's not up to governments to be proponents of these programs — it's up to governments to put in place structures that can analyze them," he said, adding that the current environmental assessment process is "singularly defective."
"Right now there's no way to approve Kinder Morgan."
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