Evidence of meeting #82 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was fires.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Richard Kent  Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management
Peter Beatty  Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations
Blaine Wiggins  Executive Director, Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada
Arnold Lazare  President, Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada
Jeff Eustache  Manager, Forest Fuel Management Department, First Nations' Emergency Services Society
Curtis Dick  Fire Services Officer, First Nations' Emergency Services Society

11:30 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

I want to make a very quick point.

It's extremely rare in Saskatchewan to be having that type of situation. We're into August and it should be starting to cool off and you wouldn't be expecting forest fires.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I agree with you.

11:30 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

That spring we had very high water levels.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Oh yes, unprecedented.

11:30 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

Nobody was thinking about forest fires at all until we hit July and we hit extremely hot temperatures and no rain, right through August. That's when they started, at the beginning of August, I believe. They were aware of this; some of them started August 5 or 8. We had hot weather and high winds.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Yes, we did.

11:30 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

We went from one extreme to the other.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Kent, that's the issue. These fires start and then nothing happens, and then four or five days later we have a massive blaze. Maybe talk about that. The issues are with these bands. They let the people know there's a fire and nothing happens for two or three days, and then we have these catastrophes.

11:30 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

Yes. As the chief has mentioned, we have to be prepared and we have to make sure that we are ready to stop the fires before they get into the communities and disrupt the life of the community and send people home.

In Canada we're having emergencies at all times of the year. The Wollaston evacuation was May 11, 2011. This one was in August and September.

We have to be prepared. We have to have trained people. We have to let the communities decide how the emergency is run, because they know what's best for their community.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Could you address that? In August there's no staff to fight these fires?

11:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

Yes. When we're getting ready to shut down the forest fire staff—that's staffed by the provincial government and some of the firefighters are from our first nations communities—we don't expect, and we normally don't have those fires. But when we do, we have to make sure we have staff and people we can call in quickly and stop the fires before they get close to the communities.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Did you do that?

11:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

In this case, no, I don't believe we did. I believe the province needed to respond a little more quickly to those fires, and we need to have more staff ready to go within first nations communities.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Chief Beatty, when you're evacuating up to 2,800 people I did hear a lot—

Am I done?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have about eight seconds. You were just getting on a roll.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

No, that was it.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

MP Jolibois from the NDP is next.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Chief Peter Beatty, thank you for coming. I appreciate your being here and giving this overview.

Richard, thank you. I'm a member of Parliament for northern Saskatchewan. Before I became an MP I was in municipal politics, and I did evacuation from the municipal side. I'm familiar with what it entails.

Last week we learned that there is no agreement between Saskatchewan and INAC to look at forest fires in our region. How can we ensure that the province gets to the table and signs an agreement and they do their part to ensure that all indigenous peoples are supported when they're evacuated?

11:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

We need agreements. We need agreements in Canada because eventually all of us need to ask for help. We look after ourselves first, and then we go out to the community. Then we may go to the province, and then we may go federal. We do need agreements, I agree, but in some instances, these agreements were being negotiated between the federal government and the province, and we didn't really have any of our first nations communities involved.

A couple of years ago, when those agreements were getting ready to be signed, our chiefs said, “Whoa, hold on. You're making an agreement that deals with our communities. You need to talk to us.” In one case in Saskatchewan, they were looking at funding $1 million to the province for positions for the province. We need the positions. That's building capacity in the province, and that's great, but what about the capacity in the first nations communities?

That hasn't gone on, and from what we're hearing, they're looking a little differently at that. It's just a problem that we have to deal with. We do need agreements, but the agreements can say, “When we need you, we will call you, and we'll pay you a normal fee for service when we need you.”

11:35 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

In terms of the agreements with the province, we were not aware that there was any kind of discussion going on between the province and the federal government in terms of the funding required to facilitate our being able to respond to forest fires.

I think there has to be some effort on all sides, our side, the province, and the federal government, to come up with an agreement to facilitate our being able to respond in a timely fashion. If we're involved, we know what we need to get done and how to go about doing that in our traditional way. I look forward to that kind of discussion.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you.

Still further to the province, my experience thus far in evacuations with the.... I'm a treaty person from Clearwater River Dene Nation, but I live on the municipality side. Every year we face this, and the province steps in and does what it's supposed to do, but there's one argument that fails all the time, and it's the hiring of local residents to fight the fires, be it on the treaty side with the first nation or the municipality side. How can we move that discussion forward?

11:40 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

We did run into that. It's fresh in my mind that we did try to get our certified firefighters.... They're called level three firefighters. Level one are the initial attack crews funded by the province. They're very well-trained men. You also have the first nations firefighters at level two. Then you have level three, certified firefighters who are trained and certified to fight fires within the community.

We had a heck of a time trying to get anybody out on the fires, especially in terms of our own local people who are certified. We couldn't get them out on the fires to do any of the work that was needed. If you're going to put out a fire, you need boots on the ground. Dropping water from an air tanker or a helicopter, bucketing, is not going to put a fire out.

If any of you have any experience in fighting forest fires, you know you have to dig it out of the ground. You have to do all of that hard work if you're going to put the fire out. If you want to manage the fire and direct it around communities, you may well be able to do that with heavy equipment, then air tankers, and then helicopters, but I think that has to be rethought, that part of the firefighting strategy, especially within proximity of populated areas and infrastructure.

That has to change because right now what's happening is, they're managing fires. You have to look at it in terms of when you action a fire. Their policy, I believe, states that, when an infrastructure is in danger, that's when they action the fire. Action means putting men and equipment there. You can use that same terminology when you're monitoring a fire via satellite monitoring. We had access to that as well. We knew when those fires started, and when they were small and manageable, but there was no action because there was no direct threat to any infrastructure. When they did blow up, then they tried to manage it, but it was too late.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

The questioning moves to MP Harvey.

November 7th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Kent, during this year's evacuations in Saskatchewan, the FireSmart program was utilized as part of that process. Can you comment on the successes with the FireSmart program, some of the possible challenges associated with it, what could be done differently, and what is working?

11:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

Yes, I can, but the person who runs FireSmart within Prince Albert Grand Council is Cliff Buettner, who's with forestry and in my department as well.

The FireSmart program is working extremely well. It basically clears the fuels around communities, and in the forests surrounding communities, and makes firebreaks. It gives the community a chance to survive a wildfire if it gets close to the community. It also gives information to people in the community on how to make their community and their homes “fire smart”—for example, trim the branches eight feet up, make sure the trees are spaced far enough apart, and clear the ground fuel.

It's a great program. It's been working very well. We've had a lot of success stories with it. Instead of putting in for year-to-year funding, we're putting in for a five-year program so that we can look to the future, create these safe communities right across Saskatchewan, and give the communities a fighting chance.