The NDP opposition says northern communities could be put at risk if the government replaces people in fire towers with automated cameras.

On Thursday, Saskatoon MLA Cathy Sproule asked the government why it is going ahead with the move.

She says a lot of expertise will be lost when the workers are replaced, and as evidence pointed to other jurisdictions, which have used the cameras in the past.

“Australia tried these automated cameras and found the results to be disastrous,” she says. “After a horrendous bush-fire season in 2009, the Australian government commissioned a study of the cameras using real field tests of their accuracy and ability compared to real staff. In the study, the Australians concluded – quote, ‘detection by the camera systems was slower and less reliable than by a trained human observer.’”

Sproule maintains the cameras also rely on a signal that can’t be interrupted so there is little room for error.

Environment Minister Ken Chevaldayoff disagrees with Sproule’s conclusions.

He says the cameras are infrared and can be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

He also says there are concerns with stationing lone individuals in remote parts of the wilderness where they are forced to climb 80 to 90 stairs a day.

“The safety of those individuals is of prime concern to members of this government and to the Ministry of Environment,” he says. “Those operations are single individuals operating in a very dangerous situation. This has been documented by occupational health and safety.”

He adds the change will also result in a cost savings.