A northern mayor is recommending the federal government establish regional emergency management organizations to help assist communities address unexpected events.

Beauval Mayor Nick Daigneault said situations like the 2015 wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic put strains on the municipal resources.

“Municipalities are not necessarily given any sort of emergency response budget, so a lot of unrecoverable costs went into managing our communities and to protect ourselves from an invisible threat,” Daigneault recently told a Commons Committee examining emergency preparedness of Indigenous Peoples, referencing the pandemic. “So we’ve had to create some early on impromptu responses such as creating blockades, where we’ve had to close other entrances and exits from the community and sort of funnel everybody through one exit and entrance so they had to kind of be screened coming in and out of their communities.”

Following the wildfires of 2015, which forced the evacuation of some residents due to smoke concerns, Beauval strengthened its coordination with the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, but also in-house adjustments were made to better involve Village staff as a pertinent part of emergency planning.

“We made sure that the resources were flowing to the community and accurate information was being presented and disseminated to the community through social media posts, as well as radio spots on our local TV radio station as well,” explained Daigneault. 

In April 2020, the northwest was thrust into a position of a fast spreading COVID-19 outbreak gripping La Loche and neighbouring Clearwater River Dene Nation. This three-month outbreak would see approximately 280 infections and five people dead in the two Dene communities. A second outbreak at a long-term care home in La Loche would return in December.

Yet Daigneault said the pandemic presented an opportunity for Beauval to be a staging area for the northwest, and to coordinate a regional response to the pandemic. He explained that through a partnership with Metis Nation-Saskatchewan federal funds were used to procure PPE’s, increased food security for the region and obtain isolation RV’s for families experiencing overcrowding.

However, the partnership would sour, as Daigneault explained that politics became involved, where agencies wanted credit for assisting. “This, of course, was not our intent at the time. And didn’t become an issue until later in the pandemic when requests for resources and the sharing of resources became unheard. This became a concern for our community,” Daigneault said.

Beauval would create its own emergency operations coordinator, tasked with the response and working with provincial health and emergency officials.

“All our communities have a kinship, and we capitalized on that and it’s just expanding that concept and coming up with an actual legal plan,” explained Daigneault. “It’s just bridging the gap between federal jurisdictions such as First Nations and the Metis governments and the municipalities of the province that needs to be put pen to paper.”