Sask. government review of its response to wildfires misses key factors

Government decisions to the emergency management resources contributed to the mishandling of the 2015 wildfire crisis in Saskatchewan.

Regina (09 Dec. 2015) — The government-led review of its how it handled the wildfire crisis in 2015 is not going to provide an objective assessment of what went wrong, according to the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU/NUPGE).

SGEU/NUPGE has called for an independent, public inquiry into the mishandling of the 2015 wildfire crisis, and sent a leaflet to northerners identifying government mistakes, including cutting the number of firefighters, tower observers, and budgets for equipment and resources.

Deep cuts to emergency services a big part of the problem

In a recent media interview with MBC Radio, Environment Minister Herb Cox is reported as saying that government could not have foreseen or planned for the crisis.

“Government is apparently not willing to take responsibility for its actions,” says SGEU President Bob Bymoen. “It is refusing to acknowledge the fact that deep staff and budget cuts were a big part of the problem.  It is the job of government to maintain emergency management services to ensure a full and speedy response in a crisis, not cut jobs and resources to produce a more palatable balance sheet.”

There were 174 fewer full-time equivalent positions in the Ministry of Environment this year than in 2009–2010.  The Forest Fire Operations budget was cut by $1 million in 2015–2016.  Forty fire-tower observers were replaced with cameras.  Each initial Attack Firefighting team was cut from five to four members.  Overall, there was a 45 per cent cut in the provincial wildfire budget over the past six years.

Northern Saskatchewan residents not given full access to consultations

“Government was clearly negligent in its duty to protect and preserve northern citizens, communities and natural resources,” Bymoen adds.

The current government review of the wildfires has not given all northerners the opportunity to voice their concerns.  The consultations are by invitation only, limiting the ability of all northerners to fully participate.

“It is up to government to show some leadership on behalf of northern citizens.  It needs to commission an objective review and evaluation of the management of the 2015 wildfire season.  It is not merely a question of truth-telling but also of knowing what needs to be done to ensure that we are never this unprepared again,” adds Bymoen.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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