Another Yellowknife MLA is calling on the GNWT to prepare to offer fire and emergency response services to properties on the Ingraham Trail.
Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave follows similar calls from Yellowknife North Rylund Johnson, who represents the area.
Nokleby raised the issue in the legislature last week. She asked Paulie Chinna, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) to review “reports, strategies, and web-based toolkits” that have been done since 2012 and to have a plan in place for April 1, 2021.
She argues if that happened, it would become clear that some of the “huge” pot of capital funding available this year be spent on a combination fire/rescue truck to be placed at the Yellowknife Airport for fire and rescue services along the Ingraham Trail is the logical option.
The emergency responses could be coordinated through the Yellowknife Airport Fire Department with the city billing the GNWT for the service.
Further, the department’s highway rescue budget of $200,000 annually should be used to purchase combination fire/medic vehicles for other communities outside the capital “over the next few years.”
Johnson appealed to Yellowknife city council to reconsider discontinuing providing fire service for Ingraham Trail residents on Aug. 24.
Council stuck to their guns, and after April 1 of next year, the city won’t respond to emergency calls on the highway north of the city.
Johnson raised the issue on the opening day of this session of the legislative assembly on Oct. 15. He said in an email this week that he has been holding meetings with MACA regularly.
“I am hopeful a solution can be found, although it will require MACA moving a little quicker than usual,” he wrote.
Nokleby said it is important for her fellow city MLAs to take a stand on the case because of the geographical proximity.
“I do think it should become more of a Yellowknife issue considering most of the leases are, and most of the effective properties are, within the Yellowknife sort of area,” she said.
But she also said that this is part of a larger problem in the Northwest Territories where the GNWT is offloading highway emergency services to the communities.
“As we recently saw with the City of Yellowknife, community governments are unwilling to do the territorial government’s job anymore and have withdrawn fire and rescue services outside of community boundaries,” she said in the legislative assembly.
On top of the equipment purchases, she said traditional yearly budgets for highway emergencies should be restored.
Nokleby accused Premier Caroline Cochrane of cutting too deeply into funding for emergency services while serving as MACA minister last term.
“The premier, while minister of MACA in the 18th Assembly, further cut the already meager highway-rescue budget from half a million (dollars) annually to under $200,000 annually,” Nokleby noted.
She added this week that it would be appropriate for the annual budget to be restored to $500,000 per year.
“We could look at increasing the budget for operations, but then also putting in a (federal) request for the one time purchase of equipment,” she said.
She said the GNWT could also look at seeking additional federal support tied to extreme climate conditions, which could improve health and safety service response in outlier areas.
Johnson said he generally supports increased investments but said it would be easier to contract fire services from the local communities.
“I believe contracting with the City of Yellowknife or Dettah is the quickest option,” he stated. “A fund to compensate our municipalities for services outside is needed across the territory.”
Chinna was non-committal during oral questions last week saying she would “be committed to reviewing the reports and also looking at the April 1 date that the Member had put.”
She wouldn’t commit to purchasing a fire truck or any other equipment, either, stating that the proposal is “very premature.
“I need to look at the reports that have been created prior to this assembly, and I need to look at those numbers,” she stated. “I will have the conversation with my cabinet colleagues.”
MACA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.