The premier of the Northwest Territories says she is angry the wildfire-ravaged region doesn’t have the same services as the South and called on Canadians to pressure Ottawa to act.
Premier Caroline Cochrane said she’s spent years calling for the federal government to help the territory develop roads and communication technologies needed to keep people safe as the territory sees more fires and other climate change impacts.
“I’m tired. I’ve been tired for a long time for asking for infrastructure,” Cochrane said.
“And now I’m angry.”
Cochrane joined Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to tour a Calgary reception centre for wildfire evacuees Friday.
Tens of thousands have been forced from the territory, with more than 21,500 people seeking refuge in Alberta. Others have gone to British Columbia and Manitoba to wait out the blazes.
Cochrane said communication services went down in the territory as authorities were trying to get people out. Cochrane said she couldn’t get a hold of people to know if they were safe or needed help to leave.
Some communities only have one road for access and she described people driving with flames on both sides. Twenty-two communities have no permanent roads and planes can’t land if there’s too much smoke, she said.
“Whose fault is it when we can’t get people out because we don’t have basic infrastructure that every Canadian takes for granted?” Cochrane said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Friday whether federal authorities had failed the territories because of infrastructure gaps. He said it was “part of the reflections” that would take place on the fires and their response.
“Within two days, they’d evacuated close to 20,000 people in a very effective way and that’s, as you say, not a credit to great infrastructure,” Trudeau said at a firehall in the Okanagan in the British Columbia Interior, another area hit hard by wildfires in recent weeks.
Trudeau noted that the fire had not reached Yellowknife and said “next time we might not be so lucky.”
“We’re going to need to learn from these near misses.”
In an update Thursday night, the territorial government said a fire outside the territorial capital was unlikely to reach Yellowknife in the next 72 hours. Officials said there were no significant advances and the fire remained about 15 kilometres outside city limits.
The Northwest Territories legislature is set to reconvene for one day Monday to deal with the fallout from the fire, including getting financial aid to residents.
Meanwhile, Cochrane said she is eternally grateful for the kindness and support shown by Albertans.
“l shall never forget the kindness and support of Albertans,” Cochrane said. “You have truly shown what it means to care for people.”
Smith also thanked Albertans for opening their homes, businesses and hearts. She said Alberta’s health-care system took in four acute-care patients, 55 continuing-care patients, 30 obstetrics patients and 19 dialysis patients.
Alberta has also temporarily taken in 85 inmates from the territory
The Alberta Emergency Management Agency is also preparing in case people fleeing fires in British Columbia need somewhere to go. But Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said it is not required yet.
— with files from Dirk Meissner in West Kelowna, B.C., and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon.