While almost 100 wildfires still burn in northern Saskatchewan, on Tuesday the NDP called for an inquiry into how the wildfire situation was handled by the provincial government.
The Opposition party is asking about things like cuts to resources, what they’re calling rigid policies, a perceived lack of collaboration and information sharing with northern and First Nations’ leaders.
“I want to see a full, independent review to ensure the appropriate lessons are learned from this experience, and to deliver a much better approach to forest fires going forward,” said Cam Broten, leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, in a news release.
Jim Reiter, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Government Relations responded to the call Tuesday afternoon.
He said the government will be doing a review after the operation is finished. Though Reiter said, judging by what they’ve done in the past, the review will likely be done internally instead of by an independent body, like the NDP wants.
Broten said it should be done independently to stop the review from becoming a “public relations exercise” for the government.
In response to that charge, Reiter pointed to previous review the government had done.
“When we had issues resulting from the floods, which we’ve had a number of over the past years, we reviewed, we improved processes, it was open and transparent, and I see something similar happening in this case.”
When asked if there was anything he thought could be improved, Reiter said that it’s too early to start picking things out.
“When you have that many people displaced from their home, you’re anecdotally going to get some issues that occur, I have no doubt about that. But I would say, by and large, those groups (firefighters, Red Cross etc.) did just an incredible amount of work, and an incredible job. So, I don’t want to pre-judge anything, I think that should all come out in a review.”
The NDP did pick out several things it thought could be improved, including the budget. The Opposition pointed out that in the 2009/10 budget year $102 million were put aside for fighting wildfires, while in the current fiscal year that was down to $55 million.
Reiter said budgets are an estimate of how much you’re going to spend, but that it had no impact on the firefighting efforts.
“Premier said from day one, we’re going to protect people and property, we’re going to call in all the resources that we need, all the resources that we can find available, and we’ll worry about paying for it later.”
The NDP also had concerns about people and equipment, pointing out some fire spotters were replaced with experimental cameras. Reiter responded that the cameras were actually valuable in this instance, because people would have had to leave, while the cameras were able to stay and monitor the fires.
One of the other points the NDP picked out was on what they’re calling a lack collaboration and basic information sharing with northern leaders.
But Reiter said, especially with having daily updates available, he thinks the government did pretty well on that front.
“(The) situation, it was fluid, it changed not only by the hour, but by the minute in some cases. People always want up-to-date information, sometimes that’s not always possible.”
Reiter said everything will be reviewed, but only once the fires are out.
“(A review) will come as soon as it’s appropriate, but not in the middle of the operation.”