Saskatchewan’s New Democratic Party is calling for an independent review of how the government handled this summer’s wildfires in northern Saskatchewan in order to prevent future forest fires from becoming a crisis situation.
Opposition leader Cam Broten wants the inquiry to be led by experts appointed in consultation with First Nations and northern leaders. He said he has heard a lot of frustration over a decrease in forest firefighting resources, rigid and restrictive policies, lack of collaboration with First Nations and northern leaders and lack of information being shared with leaders and evacuees.
“I heard from many evacuees who said, you know, I’d love to be able to go to an evacuation centre on a neighbouring reserve,” Broten told reporters on Tuesday.
The NDP alleges the firefighting budget for wildfires has been reduced annually since 2009-10 to $55 million. The budget was $102 million in 2009-10.
“That’s a big reduction and I think it speaks to perhaps the lack of preparedness and attention that this government has placed on this,” Broten said.
Broten also alleges the government cut full-time equivalent employees in the Ministry of Environment about 17 per cent since that year. According to the NDP, 66 wildfire positions have been cut since 2012.
That’s unacceptable, Broten said, pointing to the response in Lac La Ronge where more than 600 people were willing to get trained to fight the fires.
“I don’t know the exact amount that it should be, but I sure know that it’s a lot more than what we have right now.”
While the inquiry is Broten’s top concern, he said the government should also be taking immediate steps toward improvement. They include training more northern firefighters and forming an agreement with First Nations leaders when it comes to evacuations.
He also believes the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program (PDAP) should be expanded to include trapper’s cabins that are destroyed by wildfires.
The provincial government said Premier Brad Wall had previously committed to a review of this year’s wildfire situation. A formal response will be issued during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
-With files from CKOM’s Bre McAdam
Follow on Twitter: @CKOMNews