QUEEN’S PARK – Both Thunder Bay MPPs were up at Queen’s Park during Question Period. Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay Atikokan) was seeking an update from Michael Gravelle (Thunder Bay Superior North) on the situation in Fort Albany and Kashechewan.
Here is the exchange from the Hansard at Queen’s Park:
Mr. Bill Mauro: Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Natural Resources. Minister, the warm weather of the past several weeks has caused earlier-than-normal breakup of ice in northern Ontario. Over the weekend, the Chiefs and Councils of Kashechewan and Fort Albany First Nations declared a state of emergency when the early spring melt caused the Albany River to break up, raising concerns of potential flooding and creating an immediate threat to the communities in the area.
Despite the fact that weather conditions posed a real challenge for pilots on the ground, I understand your ministry staff, working closely with Emergency Management Ontario and other partners, proceeded with the planned evacuation of the communities’ most vulnerable residents, including elderly people and children.
Minister, can you please share with the members of this House details of the weekend’s events?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: Thanks to the member for Thunder Bay–Atikokan for asking this very important question.
Certainly, Speaker, at a time when Ontarians needed our government the most, Ministry of Natural Resources staff moved quickly and decisively to address the extraordinary flooding challenges in the communities of Kashechewan and Fort Albany this past weekend. Despite quite harsh weather conditions, Ministry of Natural Resources aircraft flights conducted surveillance to monitor the fast-changing flood situation. Six aircraft completed 10 flights to assist with the evacuation, to ensure the safety of over 250 of the communities’ most vulnerable.
Speaker, this was a very difficult situation, yet emergency workers on the ground were very much at their best. I sure want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts and bravery of each and every man and woman involved in this weekend’s flooding situation. I especially want to thank Emergency Management Ontario; our federal, municipal and First Nations partners who were integral in ensuring the swift and smooth implementation—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?
Mr. Bill Mauro: Minister, again, thank you to your ministry, the EMO and our federal and First Nation partners on this file.
I’m told MNR and officials in Kashechewan have reported that there is concern along the north channel if breakup occurs, and it could affect the water intake for the community. The water level is going down in both channels and escaping on the south side. There’s a reported problem 10 kilometres upriver as a result of freezing last night. It has also been reported that lots of water is still upstream and it will take days, if not a week, for it to run through.
When these natural precarious circumstances cause inhabitable conditions, it’s always necessary to ensure that those most vulnerable are the priority and are taken somewhere until conditions improve.
Speaker, through you to the minister, can you tell me, what is the status of the evacuation and what arrangements have we made for accommodating the evacuees?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: To the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: First of all, let me say thank you to the member from Thunder Bay–Atikokan for asking this very important question.
The temperatures in the area are expected to remain steady and cold, which has helped stabilize the current ice breakup. As my colleague has pointed out, currently 258 vulnerable residents, including elderly, women, children and people with medical conditions, were airlifted from Kashechewan to Kapuskasing and Wawa over the weekend.
The First Nations leadership in Kashechewan and Fort Albany First Nations have suspended evacuations until further notice. The two First Nations and the Ministry of Natural Resources are assessing river conditions to determine whether further evacuations would be needed.
In closing, I want to say thank you to all the people involved and thank you to Kapuskasing and Wawa.