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Smoke from north reminds us we are connected

It was just a little smoke ... or rather, a lot of wood smoke blanketing southern Saskatchewan like about a million campfires.
Murray Mandryk

It was just a little smoke ... or rather, a lot of wood smoke blanketing southern Saskatchewan like about a million campfires.

But it was hardly that sweet smell of dried burnt poplar, birch or fir that so many of us enjoy on summer camping or fi shing trips. The smoke that we experienced last week from the northern forest fi res in and around La Ronge was the choking, eye-watering kind that somehow reminded us how connected we really are.

It was a reminder to all of us in this province – rural, city and north – that we are all connected by shared problems.

A lack of jobs in the booming cities means fewer taxes to pay for roads schools and hospitals. A borderline drought that we might be headed for in rural southern farming area means a slowdown in the entire provincial economy. Similarly, a fall in oil, potash and even northern uranium prices means less royalty money to do the things we need to do as a growing province.

That dreaded smoke wafting down from the north into our eyes and throats was nothing but irritating trouble. It isn’t just the loss of timber, that isn’t quite the exciting industry it was 30 years ago when the then Grant Devine government was announcing the sale of the government-owned Prince Albert Pulp and Paper Company (Papco) to Weyerhaeuser that would cause a two-decade boom in Prince Albert with the province’s

Smoke from north reminds us we are connected first paper mill.

Paper became a less-valued commodity in the sudden arrival of the electronic age. Nor has traditional pulp logging in the north been the big economic player it once was, so the comparatively small section of northern forest burning won’t actually be that big a deal.

It wasn’t the economic loss of fly-in or drive-in fishers and campers with the closure of Hwy. No. 2 from Prince Albert to La Ronge. This is, admittedly, a big deal for fly-in fishing camps that will be hammered by this – especially with the road closures and the fact that every available airplane will be commandeered to fight the fires. And then there is the direct impact on the economy of La Ronge, itself – a community that’s highly dependent on the short summer tourism season to get it through the year.

It’s also the extraordinary cost to fight these fires to protect both communities and forest resources. A province that struggled to get by with a meagre $62-milllion surplus in 2014-15 is already starting 2015-16 with $700 million in the hole in borrowing can ill-afford any economic hit. Fighting forest fires tends to often be a big economic hit – one that often quickly rises to the tens of
millions of dollars.

Really, no good came out of that northern smoke last week in the same way that no good ever comes out of hail, drought or a fall in mineral prices.

But it does remind us how we are all connected as one province. One area of the province’s problems quickly becomes shared by all of us.

At the time of writing of this, neither the community of La Ronge nor the heavily populated nearby La Ronge First Nations threatened. That said, close to 1,000 people from communities like Sucker River, Waden Bay and English River were already evacuated. And communities like Stanley Mission and Nemeiben Lake were isolated by roads being cut off by smoke and fire.

Imagine if 1,000 city people or rural residents had to pack up and go because of a grass fire or a train derailment?

It’s pretty much the same for those who choose to live in places that most of us only choose to visit briefly as a nice, pleasant summer holiday.

That smoke last week somehow seemed to connect us all.

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