Labour Views, September 2023

By Josee-Anne Spirito, PSAC North Regional Executive Vice President

The wildfire season has been incredibly difficult in the Northwest Territories this year. Many of you reading this are exhausted and discouraged. You are trying to plan for what is coming ahead or what has been lost.  

As I write this, over 60% of the population of the NWT has been evacuated to provinces and territories across Canada. For some, this is the second evacuation in 4 months, adding to last year’s evacuations.  

Our members and people across the territories, whether they stayed behind and worked to save our communities or evacuated in less than ideal circumstances, have been making incredible sacrifices.  Some have lost their homes or their livelihood. For all those affected there is a lot of uncertainty as to what the future looks like. 

The evacuation has meant severe hardship but our reaction to it demonstrates the best in all of us.

What we have seen over the last few months in the NWT are stories of humanity and kindness for each other.  When evacuees were first sent to other NWT communities, northerners rallied around them and helped them however they could. Then, when people from the NWT arrived in provinces and territories across Canada, people came together and provided resources for the evacuees.  

The reaction to the wildfires demonstrates the power of workers. The effort to evacuate those at risk and contain the fires shows that when workers come together so much can be accomplished. 

All levels of government, public service workers and private sector workers from the NWT and outside the territory came together to protect the communities that are so dear to us. What workers and volunteers have accomplished so far, in such a short period of time, is nothing short of amazing. For that we are all incredibly grateful.

This story of solidarity continued in other regions of Canada this past Labour Day when evacuees were invited to PSAC events in the provinces and territories to which they had evacuated by local branches.

This evacuation has been hard on so many, especially our most vulnerable. Everyone who has been impacted by these fires faces unique challenges. The road to recovery will also not be easy for many people.  

Unfortunately, the support programs that the Government of the Northwest Territories has put forward to help evacuees do not go nearly far enough to address the hardship that the residents of the Territory have experienced. Union of Northern Workers President Gayla Thunstrom has called on the territorial government to do more and PSAC North stands with the UNW in that call.

The government supports currently being proposed by the GNWT come with significant constraints. They are also lacking when compared to the supports provided to evacuees of wildfires in Alberta and BC by their provincial governments. While it is true that a greater proportion of the total population evacuated the NWT than the proportion of residents who have been forced to evacuate similar fires in Alberta and BC, more can still be done. 

We need to congratulate those who have come together to support each other during this crisis. We need to celebrate the achievements of the workers who kept us and our homes safe. But most of all we need to honour these sacrifices with meaningful assistance to all those affected.

These wildfires have shown us that we are always strongest when we stand together.