Chief April Martel with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Photo: NDP
On his tour of Kátł’odeeche First Nation, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh was struck by one image: a ceramic white-and-blue teapot sitting in the ashes of what was once a home.
The melted-metal foundations of the house stood like the dead trees that now surround the community, posing a danger to residents without their root structures intact.
“Families are still picking through the rubble to see if they can recover anything,” he told a National Observer reporter, adding cleanup and clearing is still needed for the damaged infrastructure and burnt-black trees.
To drive home the seriousness of the climate crisis, Singh travelled to the Northwest Territories on Tuesday to visit two communities on the front lines. Kátł’odeeche First Nation and neighbouring Hay River have been battered by climate-related emergencies for two years running. In 2022, the communities fled from historic floods that caused $174 million in damages to homes, businesses and infrastructure.
Then, in 2023, they were hammered by the other side of the climate seesaw with record-high temperatures, drought and a wildfire that devastated K’atl’odeeche First Nation.
On Tuesday, by the Hay River, Singh pointed to the climate crisis as the leading cause of extreme weather.
The Hay River “is at a record low level,” Singh said. “This is serious. This is exactly what happens when extreme weather becomes a norm.”
Kátł’odeeche First Nation members returned from May’s wildfires to find their band office burned to the ground and homes damaged. The community was already dealing with a housing crisis, which has now been exacerbated because of the wildfire, Singh said.
Singh is calling on the federal government to increase funds for housing and strategies to adapt to and minimize the effects of climate change, requests he heard directly from Kátł’odeeche leadership. For example, he wants the federal government to fund additional training and better equipment to fight climate emergencies, including an emergency stockpile of wildfire fighting equipment, according to an NDP press release.
He also called for more initial attack crews to extinguish fires before they spread, and an increase to the firefighter tax credit to give volunteer firefighters financial help.