Widespread impact of Canadian wildfires and pension protests continue in France
Canada & US: Wildfires prompt evacuations, air quality warnings
An unusually severe start to Canada’s spring wildfire season has caused thousands to evacuate, interrupted industrial operations, and negatively impacted air quality over a vast swathe of the country as well as the neighboring US. Canadian authorities reported “extreme” fire danger on June 7 in western Quebec/eastern Ontario provinces, as well as areas of British Columbia and Alberta. More than 100 fires were reported as burning out of control in Quebec Province alone, with the densest fire activity currently being reported around 370 km (230 miles) north-northwest of the city of Ottawa. Within the last month, fires have forced around 120,000 people to at least temporarily evacuate their homes, including approximately 25,000 under evacuation orders as of June 6. Canadian provincial 511 services are reporting fire-related road closures and precautionary access restrictions in impacted areas. Local media have also reported the suspension of certain industrial activities, including mining and forestry operations, which tend to take place in remote regions de-prioritized by fire-fighting units in favor of combatting the blazes threatening more populated areas. Air quality across much of Canada and the eastern US has declined significantly in recent days as prevailing winds spread smoke plumes from the fires in eastern Canada. Three of Canada’s largest cities – Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa – were under “high risk” or “very high risk” air quality advisories as of June 7. Meanwhile, parts of 13 US states had Air Quality Indices designated “unhealthy” or worse, with the most dangerous conditions reported in central New York and north-central Pennsylvania. Natural Resources Canada predicts persistent dry and hot conditions that will contribute to an overall fire weather severity “well above average” across most of the country through at least August. Combined with the relatively large total area already burned this year across the country (more than 4 million hectares), this forecast suggests a particularly intense fire season and related destruction and disruption in the months ahead.
France: Activists resume pension protests and strikes
Despite diminishing participation and violence in France’s long-running pension protest movement, the latest demonstration highlights organizers’ continued resolve and the potential for further disruptions during future rallies. On June 6, strikes and demonstrations organized by the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT) took place across France. The CFDT was joined by unions representing teachers, hospital workers, transportation workers, and employees from the energy sector, causing varying degrees of disruption. State-owned rail operator SNCF canceled 10% of its scheduled service, while France’s civil aviation authority asked airlines to preemptively cancel a third of the flights out of Paris-Orly – and one-fifth of flights out of airports in Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes – in anticipation of walkouts by air traffic controllers. Five youth groups joined the labor unions in demonstrations, leading to a national turnout of between 280,000 and 900,000 participants. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, though limited clashes with the police, arrests, and incidents of vandalism were observed in Paris, Angers, Nantes, and other major cities. Protestors in Paris briefly occupied the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics Committee, while threatening to disrupt next summer’s Olympic games. This week’s protests were intended as a show of strength ahead of a National Assembly session on June 8, when the French parliament will review an opposition-sponsored motion to cancel the recently approved minimum pension age increase from 62 to 64. Trade unions have been fighting against the pension reforms since mid-January, staging rolling strikes and protests that have at times become violent. This week marked the fourteenth day of strikes and protests in 2023, exhibiting both continued resolve and fatigue. Both protest participation and levels of violence have decreased since the height of the demonstrations in March, when turnout was estimated between 1 and 3.5 million. Though this week’s strikes and protests were less disruptive than previous iterations, the outcome of the National Assembly’s vote will likely impact levels of participation and violence at future demonstrations.