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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Barnes asks Alberta government to match private donations for wildfire recovery efforts

File photo - aftermath of Kenow fire
Chris Davis - On November 27 in the Alberta Legislature, Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes (UCP) asked for a provincial government committment to matching donations for southern Alberta wildfire recover efforts. "The wildfire that devastated southeastern Alberta may be officially extinguished, but the devastation it caused continues to impact thousands of people," said Barnes. "In Saskatchewan the provincial government is committed to matching private donations up to $100,000 in support of wildfire victims. Here in Alberta our government is silent, and there is no such help. To the minister: will you commit to following Saskatchewan's lead and support Albertans devastated by wildfire by matching private donations?" Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous responded "Our government is committed to working with municipalities around the province to do our part to ensure that communities are protected. We know that wildfires in southern Alberta had significant impacts on the communities, and that's why we're continuing to work with them in their recovery."

Barnes pressed his request, saying "Given that while the immediate danger from the fire has dissipated, many of the people that were impacted by the southeastern wildfires are now facing significant water quality issues and given that wildfires can cause a number of concerning changes to water quality such as increased sulphates and dissolved solids, including organic carbon, chloride, and iron, changes to pH level, and changes to the colour, taste, and odour of the water, again to the minister: what is being done to ensure that those impacted by the fire have safe drinking water for themselves and their livestock?" Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips responded "The member is right that, certainly, we have seen these effects on drinking water quality both in Fort McMurray and southeast Alberta and elsewhere, so that's why as a government we're committed to ensuring that we invest in water and waste-water treatment facilities. As for the specifics of the question, I'm very pleased to follow up with the hon. member and any of the municipal officials or other ranching families or other landowners that might be affected by this. Thanks."

Barnes continued "Okay. Thank you for that. Given that in order to be eligible for DRP funding, a disaster must be extraordinary, insurance not reasonably or readily available, and that there is evidence the event is widespread and given that after talking with constituents affected by the wildfires, I understand that insurance for agricultural fencing and livestock is available but not widely purchased, to the minister: shouldn't it be considered unreasonable to expect farmers and ranchers to purchase a product that isn't widely purchased by their industry? Help these affected producers." Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson said "I did meet with some folks last week at AUMA (the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) and, actually, previously at AAMD and C (the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties) on topics like these, the wildfires and insurance. I'm working and my ministry is working with Ag and Forestry. Our administration folks are working with municipal officials in their areas as well. We're always trying to help Albertans, especially in times of need like this, and trying to figure out the existing programs we have, how they work, and how, you know, we could make sure that we're looking out for all Albertans. We'll continue to do that. Like I said, I've met with many municipal officials, and I'm happy to continue to do so going forward."

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