The NDP opposition and Sask Party government continued to spar in the legislature Wednesday over the government’s decision to replace employees in fire towers with cameras.
The government has said on a number of occasions that it is only following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions, such as the state of Oregon, regarding the decision to replace government employees – who watch for forest fires from high atop these towers – with video cameras.
Nevertheless, during question period, opposition critic Cathy Sproule accused the government of being disingenuous; citing the fact Oregon uses a combination of both employees and cameras in its towers.
“The minister has cited a program in Oregon but did not give the assembly an accurate picture of that pilot project,” she says. “He said the technology has been operationally proven in North America. Mr. Speaker, we spoke with the Oregon forest department. Mr. Dennis Lee, a protection unit forester, told us that Oregon continues to use tower observers for the majority of their forests.”
Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff responded the government is only acting on occupational health and safety concerns by replacing the employees.
“Occupational health and safety approached the ministry of environment and talked about concerns they had for individuals that climb towers that are 80 to 90 feet high, and they did so on their own,” he says. “Should something happen, clearly there would be a concern.”
The government is looking at replacing about 42 employees with the cameras.
The NDP says the Sask Party will put public safety at risk if it goes ahead with the move.