Prince Albert councillor pushes for permanent evacuee infrastructure
A Prince Albert city councillor says while his motion to have permanent infrastructure in place to support northern evacuees was defeated at a recent council meeting, it’s not dead.
This year, more than 2,000 people were evacuated from northern communities as a result of wildfires in the province. Evacuees were distributed across several municipalities, including Prince Albert.
Then, in mid-September, government officials started asking evacuees in Prince Albert to relocate to Saskatoon, as a large concentration in the area was putting stress on everything from Prince Albert’s health system to area hotels.
In his motion, Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha noted wildfires are happening in Saskatchewan annually and changes in weather patterns due to climate change causing flash flooding “will continue to displace communities, creating more waves of evacuees in years to come.”
The motion suggested the Red Cross manage the facilities, but Botha said any organization providing emergency response in the area would be welcome to use the facilities. He said Prince Albert is a “frontline” community when it comes to supporting evacuees from Saskatchewan’s north, Manitoba, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Botha said although the motion was defeated, he plans to continue his push for permanent facilities in the future, because it would reduce strain on the community and improve the experience for evacuees, who are sometimes asked to stay in hotels or school gymnasiums.
He said a permanent facility would provide evacuees with “a place where they can be comfortable, where they can regroup and be together as a family unit.”
Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky said he voted against the motion because he feels Prince Albert has more pressing issues to deal with, like replacement of the city’s waterlines.
It wouldn’t make sense to purchase or construct such facilities when there’s a risk they may stand empty when they’re not in use by evacuees, he said.
Calling the motion a “pie in the sky” idea, Nowoselsky noted the provincial government has already removed millions in funding for municipalities in this year’s budget.
“Your water and sewer services are basic services to the city; we’re in a big bind there and we’re in a big bind in other areas. It’s just so unrealistic,” Nowoselsky said of the motion.
In a statement, the Canadian Red Cross said whenever a community is evacuated, it works closely with the province and the affected community to determine where evacuees should be placed, noting it “applauds” Prince Albert’s efforts to be prepared for an emergency and looks forward to reviewing any future proposals.