POLITICS

Saskatchewan NDP want independent review of how province responded to wildfires

07/21/2015 01:44 EDT | Updated 07/21/2016 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Saskatchewan's NDP Opposition wants an independent review into how the province dealt with wildfires that forced thousands of people from their homes.

NDP Leader Cam Broten says the review should look at how well the government was prepared for the wildfires, including whether there were enough trained firefighters and equipment.

He also says a probe should consider whether the government collaborated enough with First Nation and other community leaders.

Jim Reiter, the minister for Government Relations, says the government will be doing a review after the firefighting operation is finished.

He says judging by what they've done in the past, the review will likely be done internally instead of by an independent body.

Broten notes that in 2009-10, Saskatchewan’s budget for fighting wildfires was $102 million, but the government allocated about half that amount this year.

Wildfires sparked by lightning and hot, dry conditions burned huge areas of the province, threatening communities including La Ronge.

A shortage of firefighters prompted the government to call in the Canadian Army and help from crews across Canada and parts of the U.S.

"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,” Broten said in a release Tuesday.

"What role did all the cuts and shrinking resources have in allowing these forest fires to get so out of control? Why weren’t enough people put on the front lines sooner? Why was there so little collaboration with First Nations that wanted to help house evacuees? Why was information not shared more readily? These are the kinds of questions many northern leaders and community members are asking, and they deserve answers."

Reiter said the government has done internal reviews in the past.

"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," he said.

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 Canadian Press, CJME)