Warren Kaeding, the minister of Government Relations, First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs, is guaranteeing better forest fire response efforts for the North this year than in 2017.

The government was criticized for what many, especially in the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, thought was a lack of effort to battle blazes towards the end of the season, which caused states of emergencies and evacuations.

Kaeding says in the event of a crisis, resources will be deployed quickly.

“I anticipate if we face a critical season like that again, we’re going to be able to deploy resources very efficiently and very quickly, and in a very coordinated manner,” said Kaeding. “I know our guys have looked at the situation, evaluated it, and we should be learning from every action and activity.”

The opposition says the North was forgotten about in the budget for highways and airports upgrades, but Kaeding says that budgetary line is up approximately $10 million from 2017.

A positive spending priority in the budget is $11.4 million in new money for mental health services and supports. Kaeding referenced the need for supports and services in the North, pointing to the La Loche School shooting in January 2016, which left four people dead.

As for how the money will roll out at the community level, Kaeding says resources will be positioned based on the situation.

“We’re going to evaluate where the critical needs are,” said Kaeding. “What you’re going to see is resources deployed, not necessarily — specifically for mental health, but trying to deal with the issues as a bundle.”

(PHOTO: Warren Kaeding. Photo courtesy of warrenkaedingmla.ca)