It’s been six months since the NDP called for changes to the province's forest fire policy – and it wants the Sask. Party to stop ignoring concerns raised by northern leaders and residents, and make changes now to prepare for this year's forest fire season.
"For three years now, we've been calling for change to the "let it burn" policy. Northern leaders have been pushing for this, and the northern NDP MLAs have brought forward petition after petition. The Sask. Party continues to stubbornly dismiss all of that," said NDP Leader Cam Broten. "I thought last year's fire season would have been a wake-up call for Mr. Wall, but it's been six months since most of the evacuees returned home, and this government still hasn't had an independent review or announced any changes.
"Last summer, I saw firsthand the impact of the cuts to firefighting resources, the government's refusal to collaborate with First Nations and northern leaders, and their stubbornness when it comes to fixing a policy that isn't flexible enough. What happened last summer can never happen again. We need to be ready for this year's fire season, and that means undoing the damage of the Sask. Party's cuts. It means listening to the wisdom of northerners. And it means fixing policies that aren't working.”
Saskatchewan’s budget for fighting wildfires was just $55 million in 2015, slashed by the Sask. Party from $102 million in 2009. In 2012, the Sask. Party cut each forest firefighting team to four members from five and terminated 40 experienced fire spotters, taking down their towers and replacing them with experimental cameras.
Northern leaders say in previous decades there were more than 2,000 firefighters trained and ready to combat fires, but there were only a fraction of that many prepared for the 2015 fire season.
Broten has also called for:
- A joint strategy with northern leadership, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the Métis Nation, Tribal Councils, and First Nations to hire and train many more northern firefighters.
- A formalized partnership for First Nations to be involved in providing shelters and other vital services during future evacuations.
- An improved communications protocol to ensure accurate, timely information is available to local leadership, including First Nations and Métis leaders, mayors, local MLAs and all evacuees.
Adjustments to the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program (PDAP) to make it as responsive and fair as possible for those affected by forest fires. In Manitoba, for example, their disaster assistance program was amended to include a provision to cover trappers’ cabins.