This is page numbers 6417 - 6500 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was indigenous.

Topics

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Madam Premier.

Caroline Cochrane

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'd like to defer that to the Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Madam Premier. Minister responsible for MACA.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, all disaster experienced to date in the Northwest Territories are eligible for reimbursement under two federal funding programs. The Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement, or DFAA, and Emergency Management Assistance Program, or EMAP. In the event of a large scale natural disasters, the DFAA provides reimbursement to territorial, plus provincial governments for related costs, including evacuations. The GNWT will seek reimbursement for all evacuation related costs which we have incurred. This includes the Evacuation Travel Support Program and direct GNWT costs such as flights and accommodations. Evacuation costs incurred by NWT residents are not eligible for reimbursement under DFAA. This is because DFAA is a program of last resort. After all resources of funding, including insurance, have been exhausted, this -- it is not an insurance program. It is an -- and it's not a compensation program. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I want to thank the Minister for that. So given that most of the evacuation costs are reimbursed well, I just don't understand why our support programs haven't been a little more generous and fairer. So I've received numerous complaints about the unfairness and inadequacy of the Evacuation Travel Support Program. So can the Premier tell us whether Cabinet is ready to reconsider the scope and amount of the current program and better support our residents that were evacuated? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Department of Finance is not considering expanding the scope and amount to the Evacuation Travel Support Program. The Evacuation Travel Support Program was established to provide financial relief to NWT residents who evacuated in a vehicle during the evacuation that occurred as a result of the 2023 wildfires. I recognize that funding through this program alone does not cover all potential costs associated with the evacuation or incurred by residents.

In addition to the Evacuation Travel Support Program, the GNWT offered a number of different supports for evacuees during the evacuation including evacuation charter flights, gas at the Alberta border for evacuees who drove, accommodations at evacuation centres, and private accommodations where space was limited at evacuation centres, food allowance and meals, access to free municipal and provincial campgrounds, and a donation of $400,000 to the United Way to support the number of community organizations. I encourage residents to contact their insurance companies to see if they have coverage for evacuation in their policy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I'm sure the Minister recognizes that I'm going to keep fighting for better support for the evacuees. But during my statement, I recognized that it was quite an accomplishment to evacuate most Yellowknife residents safely over a very short period of time. However, there can and should be improvements made to how we work together with Indigenous governments, including legislative and policy changes. So can the Minister tell us how GNWT intends to work better with Indigenous governments in the future on emergency management? Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, MACA's experience is that many Indigenous governments work directly with community governments as part of their local EMO. Emergency management works best when it's addressed at the local level and by those who can direct community government staff and have the authority to mobilize community government, its assets, as part of the emergency response. There does need to be more clarity on roles and responsibilities, including relationships between the local EMO and the regional EMO and the territorial EMO, especially given the Emergency Management Act assigned responsibility for emergency management to community governments. We recognize there needs to be further cooperation with Indigenous governments for emergencies, and we will -- we want to hear directly from the Indigenous governments as part of the after-action review. And I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, I've had a number of conversations with Indigenous leaders on that, and I agree we need to work better together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary. Member for Frame Lake.

Kevin O'Reilly

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I want to thank the Minister for that. I believe he's quite sincere, and I do appreciate his efforts on that front, so.

I believe it is time, though, Mr. Speaker, to start to think about lessons learned about a fire and emergency management from these evacuations. There should be an independent third-party public review, and I think one of the options that needs to be considered is the Public Inquiries Act. But I'd like to know from the Minister whether Cabinet has a position and a direction on such a review of fire and emergency management. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, yes, we've already started to turn our attention to the lessons learned on the emergency management side. People have been taking notes. We've been working with the municipalities, hearing things that work really well, and things that we can improve on. There will be an independent third party review. It is a standard practice in all jurisdictions to conduct an after-action review after disaster events to examine what happened, what worked, and what didn't, and to make recommendations for improvements going forward. The 2023 wildfire after-action review is anticipated to be a large undertaking and will be public. We want to hear from the public, staff working directly on the emergency response, Indigenous governments, NGOs, federal and provincial, territorial partners who assisted with providing evacuation supports and others. We will not be waiting for recommendations to start making improvements. We know that much work can start now, including review of the NWT emergency plan, increase training to support the community governments, starting a review with the Emergency Management Act. This work cannot be finalized until the recommendations are provided. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Oral questions. Member for Deh Cho.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my questions are related to the recent wildfires which caused widespread evacuations and total destruction to properties. The wildfire at Enterprise was burning prior to the devastating day of August 13th.

Can the Minister of ECC apprise this House as to why the wildfire near the hamlet of Enterprise was allowed to burn out of control for several days prior to the devastation and evacuation of the residents? Mahsi.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Minister responsible for Environment and Climate Change.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I can assure this House that the wildfire that impacted the community of Enterprise received initial attack and was actioned consistently prior to the disaster of August 13th. The fire was initially identified on August 2nd and an initial attack within two hours. I repeat, two hours.

Within two hours, that grew -- the fire grew from three hectares to 120 hectares with extreme weather conditions that include very strong winds. The fire was actioned by crews and/or aircraft as conditions allowed from the time it was discovered but the extreme fire conditions and extreme fire behaviour made fighting the fire very challenging and limited ability to -- for ignition operations to be completed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker, and mahsi to the Minister for the all the information that they were fighting the fires prior to. And it's kind of confusing because the fires kind of snuck up to the community on that day, you know, after all the Department of ECC and fire management help have all the necessary tools and information at their fingertips to determine whether wind and wind speed, yet these systems seemed to have failed on that day or just prior to that day.

Can the Minister apprise this House as to why these factors and tools were not taken into account prior to the devastating day? Mahsi.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would like to state again that the fire was actioned as conditions allowed from start on August 2nd. The tragic event on August 13th were because of the environmental conditions and extreme wind event. Wind gusted higher than forecasted in the area that already had severe drought and burning conditions. Our team worked with the best information available from the beginning of this fire and used the tools and approaches available to us. The unfortunate reality is that we had a perfect storm of buildup of forest fuel, very high drought codes, and extreme wind event, extremely challenging fire behaviour, that resulted in this situation. I recognize the impact that this devastating loss had on the hamlet of Enterprise, and my thoughts are with them. We had been in the community on September 5th and 11th with the senior officials to discuss the fire event on August 13th.

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to talk to a number of incident commanders, as well as we brought in our old retired firefighters that had dealt with fires in the past and they basically all said the same thing. We were in a situation that was unique to the -- us. They've never seen it before. We've seen disaster -- this fire react; we didn't expect it to do. So we did everything we could. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. And mahsi to the Minister for that. Mr. Speaker, I understand other wildfires at other communities were happening at the same time, and the fire attack crews may have been spread out.

Can the Minister apprise this House why no fire attack crews were at Enterprise although the fire was at their doorstep for days? Mahsi.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the fire was more than 30 kilometers away from Enterprise for days before it impacted the community. The fire was closer to Kakisa before this extreme wind event pushed it towards the community of Enterprise, which was further than predicted by models. Aircraft and crews actioned this fire consistently as conditions allowed throughout their response beginning with initial attack on August 2nd. The fire impacted on Enterprise was not a result of crews being spread out, but it was a result of extreme wind event and environmental conditions. This caused the fire to burn at extreme intensity and speed driven by wind which was made worse by severe drought and built up fuel in the environment causing explosive conditions. It is important to note that there are times crews and aircrafts were not able to fight the fire due to smoke and the fast movement of the fires. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary. Member for Deh Cho.

Ronald Bonnetrouge

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker, and mahsi to the Minister. Mr. Speaker, we hear of a couple of brothers from Enterprise, along with other volunteers, putting out fires that were continually flaring up throughout the community of Enterprise after the initial wildfire. They note that there were no ECC fire crews for more than five days to assist and this was well after the main fire tore through the hamlet.

Can the Minister apprise this House as to why no fire crews were available in the community to monitor and fight the fires? Mahsi.

Shane Thompson

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Member talked about those two brothers who were helping and, again, I say thank you very much to them for the work that they did there.

Mr. Speaker, after the wildfire hit the community, many of the flare-ups that were associated with this were structural fires. Our wildfire firefighters are not trained in this. That there was very much about structural firefighters that need to do the work there.

While meeting with the hamlet, we are made aware of these concerns and are committed to looking into this in an after-action review. ECC is still working on fires and once the season is complete, the after-action review will be the number 1 priority. So we will be working on it. And some of this -- the challenges that the Member talked about is our wildfire fighters do not fight structural fires. That there is volunteer firefighters or fire crews. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Oral questions. Member for Kam Lake.

Oral Question 1576-19(2): Post-evacuation Business Supports
Oral Questions

September 27th, 2023

Page 6425

Caitlin Cleveland

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I'd like to continue on my colleague's question -- my colleague from Frame Lake's question for the Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs in regards to the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement policy through the federal government.

My first question is in regards to airfare, Mr. Speaker.

So here in Yellowknife, the language that was coming out from the government was if you can get yourself on a commercial flight, get to the airport, get on a flight, get out of town, please leave as soon as you possibly can. And so numerous residents did that. They listened to the government. They booked themselves a flight if they could afford to do so, even if they couldn't really long-term sustainably afford to do so, they did it. I have residents who spent rent money on airfare in order to listen to the government, support the government's efforts to evacuate Yellowknife and get out of town. Those residents are now out airfare because they did not sit and wait for evacuation flights. And at the time, here in Yellowknife, the sentiment around town was one of chaos and confusion. There was a lot of miscommunication -- or not miscommunication, but competing communication, residents having to piece together communication and information that was coming out from different levels of government. And so residents did what they could to get out of town and get themselves and their family out of harm's way. And so I'm wondering if this policy speaks directly to recovery of cost for transportation, why will the government not refund the cost of airfare that residents paid for out-of-pocket at the request of this government? Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Minister responsible for Municipal and Community Affairs.