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Question Period (12 April 2007)

From Hansard - 12 April 2007

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Forest Fire Fighting Policies and Plans

Mr. Hart: — Mr. Speaker, last summer Saskatchewan was plagued with an intense forest fire season. In November the Minister of Environment told the House that he would be conducting an internal review, Mr. Speaker. My question to the minister is, did he do that review and, if so, what changes is he planning to his forest fire policies, Mr. Speaker?

Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Mr. Speaker, the provincial wildfire policy is a comprehensive plan that we have as a government that’s been implemented for quite a number of years, which includes an annual review of the previous year’s forest fire fighting season to see what you’ve learned and then make changes as you move forward.

Mr. Speaker, these items have all been reviewed over the last three or four months, and the plan for the firefighting season will be laid out very shortly. And I’ll be pleased to provide information to that member and to the public as we normally do.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The minister says that he’s completed his review and will be laying out the policy soon. The residents of northern Saskatchewan would like to know whether he will still be adhering to that rigid 20-kilometre zone around northern communities.

Mr. Speaker, the current policy calls for the department to let the forest fires burn unless they come within the 20-kilometre zone. Last summer the community of Stony Rapids was nearly burned to the ground because of this policy and this minister’s inaction. Mr. Speaker, my question to the minister is, is he still adhering to that rigid policy of allowing forest fires to burn outside the 20-kilometre zone?

Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Mr. Speaker, as I’ve explained it a number of occasions in the House and to the public, is the overall policy has a system whereby values of protection are provided throughout the whole forest fire risk area, and primarily it relates to protection of people, protection of homes, businesses, and activities. And we’ll continue to proceed with that policy.

Mr. Speaker, last year’s fire season had 501 fire starts compared to a 10-year average of 643 fire starts. Unfortunately many of them were right all at the same time and that ended up putting great pressure not only on our firefighting response but the firefighting response of all of Western Canada and the United States. Mr. Speaker, we have a very good system and we’re going to continue to make sure that it’s well supported.

Mr. Hart: — Mr. Speaker, the minister said that he has a very good plan in place and that the people of particularly northern Saskatchewan should be assured that they will be adequately protected. Yet the minister has also said that last season they were challenged when all the forest fires broke out in the La Ronge area.

For a number of years, Mr. Speaker, the Aerial Applicators Association of Saskatchewan have been talking to that minister and his government about using single air tanker planes to supplement the firefighting resources. Mr. Speaker, I don’t believe that that minister has any intention of accessing those resources. And I would like to know why he hasn’t made arrangements to access all possible resources in case we get into a jam like we did last season, Mr. Speaker.

Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Mr. Speaker, we have been working very carefully with the experts in this area and they have laid out a plan whereby we’re doing a combination of things involving everything from the fire towers across the North to the new aircraft that we have been bringing on board. And we know that the new chemical firefighting aircraft will be coming in the coming weeks, and I know that the public will be happy to see all of that when it comes.

Mr. Speaker, the real question here is, what does that member opposite say that we should do as far as how much money we should spend in this whole area? We have had very good support from our Finance people in providing the resources that we need and we’ll continue to do that. But the member opposite, he needs to tell us how much more money he thinks we should be spending in this area.

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