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Federal minister tours NWT communities affected by wildfires

From left: NWT MP Michael McLeod, federal emergency preparedness minister Harjit Sajjan and NWT communities minister Shane Thompson
From left: NWT MP Michael McLeod, federal emergency preparedness minister Harjit Sajjan and NWT communities minister Shane Thompson. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

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Federal emergency preparedness minister Harjit Sajjan has toured wildfire damage and defensive work completed in Behchokǫ̀, Fort Smith, Hay River and Enterprise.

The minister travelled to the communities on Monday, where he said he met with municipal and First Nations leaders to discuss their needs.

“The federal government will be there, making sure to provide the appropriate support that is needed when it comes to the response,” Sajjan told reporters in Yellowknife later on Monday. “We’re here to assist in your recovery.”

In a press release, the federal government said it was “expeditiously assessing” the Northwest Territories government’s disaster financial assistance claim for the 2023 wildfire season.

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Through that funding arrangement, the Canadian government covers up to 90 percent of eligible expenses submitted by provinces and territories. That includes restoring public works and infrastructure to their pre-disaster state and replacing or restoring people’s homes or small businesses if those costs are not covered by insurance.

Provinces and territories can request advance payments in the first 12 months following a large-scale disaster.

Incident Commander Frank Lepine, left, provides a briefing to MP Michael McLeod (furthest right) and emergency preparedness minister Harjit Sajjan (second from right) at NWT Fire’s incident command post in Hay River. Photo: GNWT

Sajjan said the federal government would learn from this year’s wildfire season across Canada and make investments to respond to and mitigate the impacts of potential future climate disasters. He said that includes looking at local training, equipment and communication.

“It is a sad reality that we’re facing, but one that we have to now recognize,” he said.

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“We need to make sure that we work together at all levels of government, have mitigation adaptation take place to where we can prevent these things, have the appropriate response in place … and then making sure that we continue to learn and get better at this.”

NWT MLAs last month approved increasing this year’s wildfire suppression budget to around $100 million. Since then, Ottawa has pledged some extra federal cash to the territory.

The federal government announced last week $28.8 million over five years for the NWT to “strengthen capacities and capabilities in fire management” through securing equipment and personnel. That money comes from Canada’s $256-million Fighting and Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate Equipment Fund.

The federal government then announced a further $15 million to the territory on Monday, through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement Program, to assist with its recovery from flooding in 2021 and 2022. Ottawa said that’s on top of $51 million issued earlier this year to help cover some of those costs.

“We as a government want to make sure that we make additional funding available as quickly as possible,” Sajjan said.

Provinces and territories have six months following the end of a disaster to request financial assistance from the federal government. They then have up to five years to submit a final claim.