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

Caroline Cochrane earlier expressed anger northerners don’t get same services as other Canadians
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and N.W.T. premier Caroline Cochrane meet in Edmonton, Alberta on Saturday, August 26, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

After saying last week she was angry Northerners don’t receive the same services from the federal government as people in the rest of Canada, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane says the prime minister made “specific commitments” to address the issue this weekend when they met to discuss firefighting efforts.

Cochrane said in a social media post following her meeting with Justin Trudeau in Edmonton on Saturday that she thanked him for the federal support the territory has received, especially military aid, in light of the wildfires and evacuations that have forced two thirds of the N.W.T’s 45,000 residents to leave their homes.

She said Trudeau made several commitments, which included speeding up the Employment Insurance process for N.W.T. residents and providing an advance under the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements to aid with cash flow.

He also committed to collaborating with the territory on plans for possible air evacuations of communities without road access, Cochrane said, as well as to prioritizing the development of road infrastructure, enhancing satellite redundancy and assisting the N.W.T in addressing the impacts of climate change.

“I see these commitments as crucial steps toward supporting the immediate and long-term needs of the Northwest Territories and our residents,” Cochrane said in her post.

A readout from the Prime Minister’s Office after the meeting said Trudeau “reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to help in battling the fires and supporting recovery and rebuilding efforts.”

The readout noted the two leaders spoke about the territory’s planned application under the federal DFAA program, and about investments in infrastructure, telecommunications, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

It said they committed to working together to expedite Employment Insurance supports, and that they discussed “shared efforts to control the wildfires and support residents who have been displaced.” It said that included the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel, the Canadian Coast Guard and firefighters from across the country.

Cochrane previously said she’s spent years calling on Ottawa to help the territory develop roads and communication technologies needed to keep people safe as the territory sees more fires.

“I highlighted for (Trudeau) the pressing needs of the Northwest Territories, including broadband redundancy, road infrastructure for communities accessible only by air, and concerns for those same communities affected by fires,” Cochrane said in her post following Saturday’s meeting.

Efforts to protect numerous evacuated communities, including the territory’s capital, Yellowknife, continued Sunday.

NWT Fire said in an update that cooler nights and high relative humidity have helped “quiet the fire” near Yellowknife and that winds on Sunday were expected to push the fire north towards an area without fuel.

Rising temperatures into Monday were expected to increase fire behaviour, however. Hot temperatures near Hay River, meanwhile, were challenging crews working to protect that community and smoke was making it difficult for aircraft to safely fly.

The City of Edmonton said late Friday it has closed registration of new wildfire evacuees due to limited hotel capacity in the city.

The city said that since Aug. 18, more than 6,000 evacuees have registered at the Edmonton Emergency Reception Centre and more than 3,100 people have been placed in Edmonton hotels.

It said that’s more than double the number originally planned for.

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