Ottawa needs to redefine what 'being there' for hard-hit communities means

Help for those hardest hit

At the time of writing this week’s report, Merritt, Princeton and the surrounding areas, including Indigenous communities in these regions, are once again threatened by heavy rainfalls that have resulted in more evacuation orders issued.

I am certain all Canadians join me in expressing our strong support to those who have been severely impacted by these devastating floods.

Already, with some clean up underway, local governments in both Merritt and Princeton, as well as nearby Indigenous communities, have reported damage that is easily in the tens of millions of dollars.

Here in Canada, we have a federal program called the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. It lays out the terms of federal assistance that is available to provincial and territorial governments in the event of a disaster.

As a rough guideline for a per capita expenditure up to $3.27 per person, there is no federal financial assistance available. For per capita expenditures that exceed that amount, the first $6.56 per capita will result in the federal cost share being raised to 50% while the next $6.56 increases the federal share up to 75% and any amount over that is a 90% federal cost share.

The federal cost share will only apply to eligible expenditures.

The first challenge is that these federal funds can only be directly paid to provincial or territorial governments and cannot be paid directly to local governments. Due to the federal program being limited to provincial or territorial governments, this results in a secondary provincial disaster program for local governments being required.

Here in B.C. the provincial program is called Disaster Financial Assistance for Local Communities. This program works differently from the federal program in that once a disaster is declared, that in turn makes it eligible for the program funding. Each accepted claim has a maximum cost sharing limit of 80 percent of the total eligible damage, less the first $1,000.

The issue for small communities like Merritt and Princeton is, with damages in the tens of millions of dollars and a very small tax base, there is absolutely no ability to fund the required 20% of the critically required repairs and rebuilding of civic infrastructure.

That creates a situation where local mayors and councils face extremely difficult decisions with bills piling up that are not in the budget and well beyond their community’s’ ability to pay for them. This is one of the serious concerns the mayors of these communities have shared with me and, in turn, I directly asked the prime minister about in the House of Commons earlier this week.

When I asked him about this, the answer I received was basically that the federal government will "be there."
What does this mean? Statutorily, through legislation, the federal government is already obligated to “be there” to provide disaster assistance. However, when it comes to municipalities, the unaffordable 20% funding requirement remains in effect.

Unless there is a new definition from the federal government of what being there or having the backs of these communities means, the current disaster funding formula remains in effect and is insufficient.

Which brings me to my question for you this week:

Do you believe the federal government should address the 20% disaster funding requirement for local communities such as Merritt and Princeton, which have been devastated by these floods?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the critic for Environment and Climate Change.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

Dan  is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active Members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and also continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

Dan welcomes comments, questions and concerns from citizens and is often available to speak to groups and organizations on matters of federal concern. 

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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