As winter approaches, Quebec vows to improve response to spring flooding victims

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux announced a series of measures meant to provide a “direct and personal response” to flood victims, but the victims themselves aren't all that reassured.

Dozens still without heat and insulation as weather turns colder

The basement of Helen Bunyan's Pierrefonds-Roxboro home was flooded in the spring and she's still waiting on compensation. She's gone ahead with repairs, including replacing her furnace. (CBC)

After months of complaints from homeowners affected by spring flooding in Quebec, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux announced a series of measures meant to provide a "direct and personal response" to flood victims.

"I'm certainly not here to tell you everything we're doing is perfect. I'm here to say the opposite," Coiteux said during a news conference in Pierrefonds Tuesday morning.

"It's not perfect, and I'm telling you we're hearing the message on the ground that we could be doing better."

A number of residents are still waiting for long-delayed inspection reports that would allow them to apply for the municipal permits they need to repair their homes, and the compensation they need to carry out those repairs.

In a bid to improve communication, Coiteux said the government will organize days where representatives from both municipalities and the province will be available under one roof to answer questions victims may have about their inspection reports and compensation claims.

There will also be new agreements with community organizations to help those still living in hotels, Coiteux said.

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said the response wasn't botched, but rather that government processes weren't designed to deal with such a high volume of claims. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The other measures are more administrative, aimed at improving communication and information-sharing between different levels and branches of government.

For example, the province will work with municipalities to see if they can cut some of the red tape out of the issuing of permits, Coiteux explained.

He didn't go so far as to say that the government's response to the flooding was botched, but rather said that bureaucrats are accustomed to handling a few dozen compensation claims a year, not thousands.

"We realize there are improvements that could and should be made," he said, adding that they won't wait to make those changes until the official post-mortem, slated to take place in December.

'They're all confused'

Pierre-Luc Cauchon has lived on Île Mercier for 30 years. He said he and many of his neighbours are still waiting for their inspection reports.

He said while he appreciates the effort, he found Tuesday's announcement to be vague. 

"So far, at the [ministry], there is confusion on how to handle the files in the cities, so putting those people all under the same roof doesn't change that they're all confused," he said.

Cauchon, who has four young children, said the ordeal has been hard on his family.

Pierrefonds-Roxboro resident René LeBlanc echoed Cauchon's sentiments, saying the announcement lacked specifics.

He said dealing with the government hasn't been easy — each time he calls for information, he's asked for more pictures, more documents or told that he's sending them too much information.

"The nightmare grows every time I speak to somebody," he said.

He said he still doesn't have confirmation that he will receive anything from the province, though he did fight to get his permit from the borough.

Winter is coming

With winter coming, Helen Bunyan has decided to replace her furnace and repair her flooded basement without any compensation in hand.

"Unfortunately, I cannot see myself sitting down in a cold house during the winter waiting for the government to send me some money, so I thought I would start the work myself," she said.

Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough Mayor Jim Beis, who was also at the news conference, said he believes the measures will help accelerate the process.

"The goal here is that winter is coming and we need to find solutions to have people back in their homes," he said.

Residents attend a rally on Sunday, Sept. 10, in support of spring flood victims in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
That borough was one of the areas worst hit by the flooding that inundated hundreds of homes. Beis said representatives from the municipality are still visiting those affected.

Many homeowners say they lost a significant amount of their houses' insulation as well as heating. 

In July, Coiteux said he'd hired a task force to speed up the process and that the reports would be ready by mid-August.

But Sunday, several dozen frustrated homeowners who had still not received the promised reports held a rally in the West Island to protest the government's response to the spring floods.

Bunyan said Coiteux's latest promise to accelerate the compensation process is coming a bit late in the game.

"If he's speeding it up, he's speeding up at the end of the race, not at the beginning," she said.

With files from Lauren McCallum, Elias Abboud and The Canadian Press