The Alberta NDP are under fire after sitting on a completed report of the response to the Fort McMurray wildfire since March. The report was leaked by the CBC on Thursday, prompting a hastily assembled press conference from the government.
The report is highly critical of the response, saying there was a breakdown in communication, causing the evacuation of the city to start much later than it should have. The operations chief for Wood Buffalo didn’t know the fire was a direct threat to the community until he read it on social media.
The report also says that if Alberta doesn’t learn to be better prepared the public “can expect similar or worse outcomes on a more frequent basis,” and shows that there was a lack of preparedness for the wildfire season, despite a dry and hot spring.
“This is the worst natural disaster in our province’s history and it is absolutely outrageous that the government hid this report for months to avoid accountability,” says Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. “The thousands of people who lost their homes have been demanding answers and the government has intentionally hid this report from them. The information in this report shows that we were not prepared and more should have been done. It’s now more clear than ever that we need an independent judge-led inquiry for full transparency and accountability.”
The NDP say they’re working on implementing some of the suggestions included in the report, including:
- $45 million in FireSmart program funding to assist communities with wildfire prevention and protection activities ($15 million a year increase, Budget 2017)
- Strengthened wildfire protection laws
- Improved procedures to enhance fire weather forecasting
- Making the successful air-traffic control protocols developed in Fort McMurray a new standard
- $125-million investment in a new, state-of-the-art, Provincial Operations Centre (Budget 2017)
“While the report recognizes the many things the province did right, it also points to areas we can improve,” says Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister responsible for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency Shaye Anderson. “We are committed to implementing all of the recommendations. Through continuous improvement of Alberta’s emergency response system, the Government of Alberta will be better prepared for future emergencies.”
The NDP also point out that the report called the provincial response to the fire “appropriate and timely.” It also adds that firefighters were successful at protecting critical infrastructure in the region, which meant that re-entry and recovery efforts could occur sooner.
Written by Chris Hunter