Evidence of meeting #83 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 evacuated.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Keith Maracle  President, First Nations National Building Officers Association
John Kiedrowski  Project Manager and Consultant, First Nations National Building Officers Association
Viola Thomas  Councillor, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc
David McDougall  Chief, St. Theresa Point First Nation
Al Richmond  Chair, Cariboo Regional District
Judy Klassen  Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

12:50 p.m.

Chair, Cariboo Regional District

Al Richmond

I would agree with you, Cathy, that the success with our ESS people is that they're volunteers, and our weakness there is that they're volunteers. Our weakness in this situation is that normally we take people from rural areas and evacuate them to our municipalities. In this case, we have four municipalities: two of them were under evacuation order. There was no hospital. There were no medical facilities.

I would like to offer a comment with respect to the dietary concerns of the first nations people. We learned something very early on with our emergency social services. By the way, we're trying to get them to change the name from “social” services to “support” services, because that's an important component. At any rate, we learned very quickly that we're better to have first nations come in and provide the food, or to provide them with food they can provide their elders, because their dietary needs are different from those of non-first nations people. They don't survive well when they come in off the first nations and they're brought into a city with the diet and food that's provided.

That's a very key component of being aware of how you can support those first nations people when they're brought into an urban centre.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

We'll move on to questioning by MP Cannings.

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Thank you.

Thank you to you both for being with us today.

I'll direct my first questions to you, Mr. Richmond. Thank you for joining us from Anahim Lake. I lived for a short time out in Riske Creek, so I can appreciate that part of the country. I explored the Chilcotin a lot. The vast size of that plateau fire this summer was pretty mind-boggling, so I'm glad you're here before us to answer some of these questions and give your thoughts.

You made the comment that although it was perhaps an awkward or bad time to build relationships among communities and governments and officials, you did build those relationships. I'm just wondering whether you have any plans to build in a process to continue those relationships so that you don't lose them and so that we're better prepared next time this happens.

12:50 p.m.

Chair, Cariboo Regional District

Al Richmond

We had a good relationship with most of our first nation communities. I had built the relationships over the past six or seven years. The challenge is of course when governments change.

Quite often, first nations government changes. Not only does the political representation change, but all of the staff changes, and so I find myself doing a lot of that work every two years. It's an ongoing challenge.

It wasn't that we didn't have relationships. We had some very strong relationships with a number of the bands. For example, we knew the position of Mr. Joe Alphonse and the Tl'etinqox First Nation. Their position was to defend, and they were going to stay. Our orders don't apply to them.

What I was trying to say and maybe didn't articulate well was that we developed a better understanding and a closer relationship, more of a friendship. One of the chiefs, Chief Belleau of Esk'etemc First Nation, gave me all of her numbers and said to phone her. She would phone me and talk to me about the challenges she was having in her community. She found that it was a great relief to get somebody from the outside who would perhaps offer her support, and sometimes, quite frankly, who would just sit and listen.

Those are the types of relationships we build. They are personal relationships. She understood and respected it when I said, “We are here to help you, not to tell you. If you need buses, tell us, and we'll get them.” We tried to mow down those barriers.

The province would prefer that we let them do their own orders, but we say that we're there to help them process their paperwork because some of the paperwork they have to process through the federal process to get their money is mind-boggling to them. We knew this in 2010. We've actually helped them do some of their paperwork where we have the capacity to do that. The way we look at this, these are people. They're flesh and blood. I don't care whose jurisdiction they live under; we're going to help anybody we possibly can.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Yes, those are the kinds of relationships I was talking about, those personal friendships. I wondered if you have plans to kind of put in a structure so that you meet with people very regularly to build them.

I want to go on to the federal government's involvement in that emergency response. The RCMP obviously had a role in the Williams Lake centre. I'm sure Cathy was involved in asking for federal help. I wonder if you have any comments, specifically on what the federal government did and perhaps on what they might do better in the future.

12:55 p.m.

Chair, Cariboo Regional District

Al Richmond

Locally, we can't request direct help from the federal government. We have to go through the province to do that. We had discussions very early on to have the army come in, for example, because we knew very quickly that the RCMP were outgunned, and there were [Inaudible--Editor] to do that. When the request went in, the army came in very quickly.

I have to say that those federal forces did an admirable job. I didn't run into one member who wasn't respectful. They were pleased to be there. They weren't running around the barracks and waiting to see if there was something to do. They actually felt that they were helping people, and they were helping their own people. It made a big difference to those folks.

One of the folks who listened to the presentation I did at the recent Union of BC Municipalities convention was a fellow from the Armed Forces. He approached me and said that he was there to learn more. He ask what I thought was wrong with how they deployed the army. I told him that the challenge we have in Canada is that when people see the army run in, they think they're into military rule. If we were to have them about more in our communities on a regular basis and develop that relationship, there wouldn't be that fear factor.

That said, many people welcomed them and understood why they were there. They were there to help us, and I never at any time felt that I was under military rule at all. They were just great folks, and we really appreciate that level of support.

I think you'll see this in Manitoba, for example, but we in rural Canada need assistance to expand and properly do broadband service and cellular service so we can contact people. We've become a people who rely on these phones, and when we don't have them, we can't function. It would be so much easier if we could communicate with folks. The old technology of VHF radios has been taken out by the major telecoms, and that means of communication is gone. They're really playing almost third-world sometimes, with our ability for communication limited to satellite, and that's a real challenge for us. Communication is one of our biggest challenges with the really rural areas, so we need help on broadband and cellular service.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

I'm glad you said that because I hear that in other respects from all over rural Canada.

I will ask Ms. Klassen a question. We've heard from both you and the chief about the decision of whether or not to attack that fire. It was obviously a contentious issue. You said the decision was made initially by a conservation officer. Do you have fire response people in the government in Manitoba who make those decisions? Could you could fill me in on who decides?

12:55 p.m.

Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

Judy Klassen

A Manitoba Conservation office is located in Island Lake on Stevenson Island.

They are the ones that make the final decision. The leadership can recommend and ask, but ultimately they are the ones responsible.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Are they trained in forest fire behaviour?

12:55 p.m.

Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

Judy Klassen

We hope so.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

I'm just curious.

12:55 p.m.

Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

Judy Klassen

Yes. They go up. They use a plane. They survey the area. Then a decision is made. It's not directly us, the indigenous leadership, that can order a water bomber. It has to go through that channel.

1 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Thank you.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We've run out of time.

Now questioning moves on for a couple of minutes to MP Zahid.

November 9th, 2017 / 1 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thanks to both our witnesses.

MLA Klassen, this Tuesday we heard from our witnesses that first-hand data collection is an important part of the ongoing process of evaluating the frequency of fire-related emergencies, as well as developing plans and best practices.

Are there gaps in data collection on reserves that, if addressed, could assist with emergency preparedness?

1 p.m.

Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

Judy Klassen

Yes. Definitely. We largely have an elected band system in the communities. Every two years there's an election. A new council comes in, and so there are gaps in that way. There are not enough resources to gather the facts and data. Much is lost. We lost our band office a couple of years ago in St. Theresa Point, and a lot of that data that had been collected was lost from forest fire to forest fire.

Resources need to be put into that area because within Manitoba, we have lost about 860,000 hectares of forest due to the fires that we've seen every year from 1990 to 2015. We face those forest fires every year. We end up losing our food source because our animals are not protected from those forest fires.

With climate change happening at such a rapid pace, 45% of that happened within the last five years.

We're looking at those kinds of numbers. We need to mitigate those losses.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

We know that as of January 2017, INAC has agreements in place for emergency mitigation preparedness response and recovery with Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

Why do you think we don't have any as yet with Manitoba?

1 p.m.

Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

Judy Klassen

As Hansard shows, every time I ask my premier a question on indigenous issues, I'm told to talk to my federal cousins. That is unfair because we have over 130,000 people here. I know that Manitoba gets money for our indigenous people, but where that money goes we do not know. They are not forthcoming in trying to work with me on behalf of the indigenous people here in Manitoba.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

It is a challenge.

Thank you very much for participating, Ms. Klassen.

Al Richmond from B.C., I wish we had video from you. It was nice meeting you as well.

I appreciate your time. Meegwetch. Thank you for coming out.

That concludes our meeting for today.