Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor arrived at the 37th annual Association of Yukon Communities meeting with lots of good news for municipal politicians.
Taylor promised her department will finally do a review of the Municipal Act. It’s a request that was made by nearly every community during the Our Towns, Our Future consultation last year.
The act is the main guide for communities, dictating what they can do and what falls into the territory’s lap.
Taylor said the review will begin in June.
She also committed to making annual lump-sum municipal grants every April. The grants make up a major chunk of municipal budgets.
As well, to much fanfare, Taylor announced that she’s reversing a decision by her predecessor, Archie Lang, to take over municipal emergency services such as fire and ambulance.
Last year at the annual AYC meeting, Lang said the government would run all emergency services from Whitehorse, a move opposed by most communities.
Occupational health and safety regulations have raised the cost of providing emergency services, putting even more stress on already understaffed and under-qualified emergency services in remote communities.
Taylor said she will follow through with the first option offered by an advisory group made up of firefighters, the fire marshal and other government officials, to deal with the issue.
The government will give money directly to the municipalities for fire services, exercising some oversight. It will also give funding to the fire marshal’s office, which provides most training and prevention awareness.
Taylor was unable to offer dollar amounts, but did say the government was prepared to make a “significant investment.”
The investment includes a $1-million mobile, live-fire training facility – a burning house on wheels.
“Live-fire training is becoming a rarity,” said fire marshal Dennis Berry, listing the number of regulations and assessments needed before fire departments can set a real fire for training purposes.
Because of its mobility, the new facility will help the fire marshal become more visible in communities, spread awareness and prevention knowledge and help with recruiting more volunteer firefighters, he said.
Dawson fire chief Jim Regimbal, who is the president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs and a director of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, said this investment is an addition, not a replacement, to budgets already allocated to fire services within communities.
He said the balance of territorial involvement with local autonomy is the best possible solution.
“Especially in smaller communities, the fire department is the main staple of that community,” he said.
“I’m very encouraged by this, we have a lot of work to do… but this is a great partnership. It is striking a balance that’s going to be needed.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org