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GNWT approves $75 million more to fight wildfires

Members of the NWT legislative assembly have unanimously approved $75 million in additional funds to cover the costs to fight wildfires.
“We have a litany of problems before us,” NWT Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said of the extraordinary costs of fighting wildfires and other issues like low water levels that are impacting the NWT Power Corporation and Marine Transportation Services. Zoom screenshot

Members of the NWT legislative assembly have unanimously approved $75 million in additional funds to cover the costs to fight wildfires.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek described the sum as “substantial.”

The GNWT’s $178 million surplus announced in February wasn’t enough to cover all of the extraordinary expenses that have arisen.

“That surplus is all but wiped out now,” the finance minister said as the legislative assembly reconvened for an emergency sitting on Monday.

Low water levels have been putting pressure on the NWT Power Corporation, which has more difficulty generating cheaper hydro power, and the low water has also posed challenges for Marine Transportation Services in delivery supplies to communities along the Mackenzie River, Wawzonek stated.

“We have a litany of problems before us,” she said, noting that $35 million as part of the territorial government’s supplementary reserve will also be depleted.

The base budget for the annual fire suppression budget under the Department of Environment and Climate Change is $21.8 million. Wawzonek expects the $75 million in additional funding should be enough, but could provide no guarantees and acknowledged that the figure was tabulated as of Aug. 22, several days earlier. Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, said he anticipates that Monday’s $75 million is “just the start” of what will be needed.

A typical fire season would end in October but Wawzonek acknowledged that nothing about this year has been typical.

The costs under the extra funding break down as approximately $10 million per week, air tanker and helicopter support, moving crews around and fighting fires threatening communities.

“This is going to leave us in a huge hole,” Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said of the territorial budget.

NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend and she revealed Monday that Trudeau made no firm commitment to provide any funding beyond what’s in the federal government’s disaster assistance program because he talked about ensuring fairness for all Canadian jurisdictions.

READ MORE: NWT premier: Trudeau made ‘specific commitments’ for better support

Wawzonek was asked what sort of costs NWT municipalities will ultimately have to bear. She responded that it’s too soon to determine that.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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