Nova Scotia

Carbon tax adds to financial strain for volunteer fire departments

Volunteer fire services in Nova Scotia are facing tighter budgets as a result of the federal carbon tax, prompting calls for an exemption. 

Federal government not planning to provide any additional exemptions

Black smoke is shown above a forested area in the Barrington Lake, Shelburne County, area of Nova Scotia from May 29, 2023.
Smoke from the Barrington Lake Shelburne County fire is shown in a May 29 photo. The Canadian Armed Forces, provincial wildfire crews and local fire departments responded. (David Rockwood/Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables)

Volunteer fire services in Nova Scotia are facing tighter budgets as a result of the federal carbon tax, prompting calls for an exemption. 

In July, the cost of gas and diesel in Nova Scotia increased between 14 and 17 cents per litre due the tax. The cost of propane and heating oil also went up. 

Garnet Sullivan, president and treasurer for the Island & Barrington Passage Volunteer Fire Department, questions why emergency services are stuck with the bill. 

"It's a lot of money," said Sullivan.  "Let's say our ladder truck or our main pumper is out on a large call and we're there for six or eight hours.… We burn a lot of fuel." 

The volunteer department serves Cape Sable Island and nearby communities on the mainland. The fire hall and kitchen have heat pumps, but oil is used to keep the truck bays warm. 

The Municipality of the District of Barrington and the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth have asked the federal government to remove the carbon tax on volunteer emergency service providers. 

'No further exemptions'

"The Prime Minister has been clear that there will be no further exemptions for carbon pricing," Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for the deputy prime minister and minister of finance said in a statement.

In October, the federal government paused the carbon tax on home heating oil for three years. That is a help to volunteer fire departments that use the fuel. 

"In this area they raise money just to keep heating their halls, to fuel their trucks," said Lynn Seeley, president of the Yarmouth County Mutual Aid association. "Fundraising really shouldn't go towards that kind of thing, in my opinion." 

Seeley said another issue is there are fewer volunteers to help raise money at a time when the cost of equipment is rising.

"I don't think you can buy just a bare essentials [fire] engine today for under $500,000," Seeley said. 

'Whatever they can with exactly what they have'

Greg Jones, president of the Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia, said he would like to see all levels of government look at how volunteer fire services are funded.

"We have a lot of fire services that do whatever they can with exactly what they have," said Jones. 

Electric fire trucks are being purchased in some of Canada's largest cities. Jones said the cost is prohibitive for volunteer services, which account for the majority of firefighters in Canada. 

Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources and Renewables is looking at electrifying vehicles used to fight wildfires. There are 32 Ford 550 trucks, used to support wildfire fighting, located around the province. 

a pink sign 'thank you sign' on the front of a fire engine
Garnet Sullivan and other volunteers helped fight the Barrington Lake wildfire for 10 days. He said donations helped cover the cost of lost equipment. (Garnet Sullivan/Facebook)

Sullivan said his department and others lost equipment while responding to the Shelburne County wildfire that started near Barrington Lake. He said donations from the community kept the department on budget this year. 

"Without that, we would have been going behind," Sullivan said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luke Ettinger is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. Reach him at luke.ettinger@cbc.ca.

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