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Premiers meet with NWT wildfire evacuees in Calgary

Eighty-five-year-old Don Asher had travelled hundreds of kilometres to Valleyview, Alta. There, he had to be checked into to the area hospital.

After later being given the all-clear by doctors, the 36-year resident of Yellowknife proceeded to Saskatoon where he could stay with family.  Once he’d heard that Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith would be meeting with people in Calgary, he and his wife Yvonne hopped in their vehicle and headed here.

Asher’s been on the road for nearly half of the week he’s been evacuated.

The premiers toured the Westin Hotel Calgary Airport reception centre on Friday where they met with dozens of evacuees from the Northwest Territories wildfires. Later, they took questions from the media.

Asher had one himself.

“We drove here because I wanted to be here. When I saw on TV that the premiers were going to be here, I’d like to ask her a question about what is the security left in Yellowknife? I’m not happy,” Asher told LWC.

Asher said friends still around the Yellowknife area have told him that equipment’s gone missing from his property. One friend goes by the house every day, Asher said.

85-year-old Northwest Territories resident Don Asher speaks with media inside the Westin Hotel Calgary Airport on Aug. 25, 2023. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Don Asher later got the chance to speak directly with Premier Caroline Cochrane about the security concerns on his property. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“He stopped in, and he saw these things were missing and the doors are open on my house. The doors in the house were locked, the doors on the shop are not,” he said.

When asked by Calgary media how properties are being secured when residents are thousands of kilometres away, Premier Cochrane said that the federal government has helped with additional RCMP support in the area. Technology (doorbell and other entry notifications) are also helping.

“I can’t say how much that hurts me. It’s inappropriate,” Premier Cochrane said.

“This is not the time – it’s never the time – but do not prey on people that are so vulnerable in the Northwest Territories right now.”

Premier Cochrane thankful for Alberta’s support

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith (left) with NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane, answering media questions after meeting with wildfire evacuees at the Westin Hotel Calgary Airport on Aug. 25, 2023. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Right now, there are more than 21,500 temporary residents in Alberta who have fled the fires in Northwest Territories. Thousands of those have taken shelter in Calgary.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she was honoured to stand alongside Premier Cochrane as they met with evacuees.

“The true test of leadership comes in times of crisis, and since the evacuation, Premier Cochrane has continued to run her government, despite the crisis they face,” she said.

“I commend your bravery, your patience with constituents, and your willingness to serve at this critically important time.”

Along with sheltering evacuees, Alberta is tending to 55 continuing care patients, 30 obstetrics patients and 19 dialysis patients within the healthcare system. Correctional facilities are also housing 85 inmates.

Premier Cochrane said 68 per cent of their population has left the province due to wildfires. For many, that’s a massive upheaval.

“Many of the people in the North have never left the North,” Cochrane said.

“They’re not familiar with big cities. I know it’s a struggle.”

Cochrane said they were unsure how long NWT residents would be away from their homes.

“I don’t know how long this evacuation is going to take place. I know it’s still very high risk,” she said.

Responding to questions of unhoused evacuees being pushed out of hotel rooms and onto Calgary streets, Premier Smith said they’ve been made aware of the situation. She said the solutions are being sought, including providing shelter space. Another option is a potential group housing arrangement in a facility with an open area.

Both she and Minister of Public Safety, Mike Ellis, suggested that anyone needing shelter to call 311 in Calgary. Resources are being made available for all evacuees.

“Nobody should be turned away,” Ellis said.

The Calgary Emergency Management Agency responded to concerns about potentially unhoused evacuees.

“The City’s emergency response teams are working with our social agency partners to respond to the evolving needs of evacuees and provide related assistance and support as needed,” a statement read.

“No one is being turned away from accommodation. Our shelter system does not have any capacity issues and have been working with our evacuees successfully.”