A Yellowknife MLA says the Northwest Territories must immediately invest in better emergency services outside communities as lives are at risk.
How the territory helps residents who live outside communities is topical. Yellowknife is in the process of withdrawing fire services for people living on the Ingraham Trail, north of the city.
But the Ingraham Trail is far from the only place where NWT residents live beyond municipal boundaries, raising questions about who helps them in case of emergency.
Those concerns extend to responsibility for emergencies on the territory’s highways, too.
Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave Lake, said she began thinking about highway rescue after encountering several bison while returning from a trip to British Columbia.
“This made me think about what would happen if I struck one with my truck, resulting in a crash. Who would come to rescue me? How long would it take? Over a prolonged period of time, would I die from my injuries?” she asked in the legislature on Thursday.
The long stretches between communities on NWT highways can mean a response takes hours, Nokleby noted.
She criticized the territory for failing to make any “tangible, on-the-ground improvement to service” in a decade, despite a range of studies.
“How many people over the years could have been saved or had better health outcomes if there had been the political will to resolve the lack of highway rescue?” she questioned.
Nokleby added that while Premier Caroline Cochrane was overseeing the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs earlier this year, the premier reduced its annual highway rescue budget from $500,000 to $200,000.
“As we recently saw with the City of Yellowknife, community governments are unwilling to do the territorial government’s job any more,” said Nokleby, referring to the city’s withdrawal of firefighting support on the Ingraham Trail. That decision comes into effect on April 1, 2021.
The Great Slave MLA said solutions exist that won’t cost too much money.
As an example, she urged the territory to purchase a combined fire and rescue truck for Yellowknife’s airport, which could then be used both at the airport and to respond to emergencies outside city limits.
The same solution could be used in Hay River and Inuvik, she said, while smaller medical and light rescue units could be used in other communities.
In response, municipal and community services minister Paulie Chinna committed to reviewing the territory’s recent reports on public safety.
However, Chinna said she could not commit to having a solution in place for the Ingraham Trail by April 1.
Earlier this month, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, warned he may lead a bid to turn the Ingraham Trail into a hamlet – in order to get funding for fire services – if the territory does not take action.