The fierce battle to protect Quebec communities from forest fires continues on the ground as the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) reported 123 active forest fires on Saturday morning, nearly half of which were out of control.

At last count, more than 13,500 residents remain evacuated, mainly in Chibougamau and Lebel-sur-Quévillon in Northern Quebec.

Meanwhile, the Bloc Québécois (BQ) is calling for affected workers to be eligible for employment insurance (EI).

In a press release issued early on Saturday morning, Bloc Employment and Labour critic Louise Chabot called for the immediate adoption of emergency measures for employment insurance to provide rapid assistance to workers affected by the forest fires currently raging in Quebec.

"The current unprecedented situation warrants a relaxation of EI eligibility criteria to provide effective and rapid support to the thousands of workers affected by these disasters, particularly those in the seasonal industry, who simply cannot qualify at this time," said Chabot.

She acknowledged that the federal government announced two days ago that it wanted to make it easier and faster to apply for employment insurance benefits, but the Bloc MP believes that more needs to be done.

"This measure does not take into account all the workers who will not have access to these benefits because of the obsolescence of the employment insurance programme. The Bloc Québécois has long been calling for a comprehensive reform of this program, and the current situation only accentuates the urgent need for action," said Chabot.

She pointed out that parks, forests, outfitters and tourism are sectors that have been hard hit and where there is a large number of seasonal workers.

"In the absence of a comprehensive reform of employment insurance now, the government must assume its responsibilities by putting in place emergency measures, such as reducing the number of hours needed to qualify, increasing the number of weeks of benefits and extending the qualifying period. That's the bare minimum," said Chabot.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 10, 2023.