Critics call for transparency on flood relief spending

There are calls for the provincial government to be more transparent about public funds being spent in the wake of last month's devastating floods.

Alberta government must be accountable as it distributes financial aid, economist says

There are calls for more financial transparency as the government doles out money to help Albertans recover from last month's flooding. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

There are calls for the provincial government to be more transparent about public funds being spent in the wake of last month’s devastating floods.

Days after the flood waters hit Calgary and southern Alberta the province announced $1 billion in financial help. 

But a month later it's still unclear how much of that money has been spent.

The province pledged up to $10,000 for flood victims to rebuild homes, and 300 cheques have gone out. The average payment has been $7,200 per applicant.

The province has spent $2 million on the program to date, and that number continues to grow daily.

Tim Wilson with Municipal Affairs says the government is aiming at a processing time of seven to 14 days, but every homeowner's situation is different. 

Premier Alison Redford also said earlier this month there could be more disaster recovery payments in the future depending on the applicant's situation.

There has been an update on the pre-loaded debit cards distributed to flood victims, reporting that roughly $65 million was spent on that program. Human Services says it's still handing out about 300 payments per day.

The Town of High River was also given $50 million to keep essential services up and running, but so far no other expenditures have been made public. 

'Accountability problem'

"This government has an accountability problem," said University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins. 

Having been rebuked by the province's auditor general on budget transparency, the government should provide answers on flood compensation, Atkins said. 

"Where are you getting the money? How are you spending it?" he asked.

"We need to know, so they need to get something out there very, very quickly or their credibility is going to slip very, very quickly."

The federal government also pledged some flood relief in the early days of the flood.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said there is federal disaster assistance that has a set formula which the distribution of monies will be based on. 

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said a special auditor should be appointed to oversee the funding, "to ensure an efficient flow of funds to those who desperately need them."

A spokesperson for the province says the government is committed to transparency, but he couldn't say when the first accounting of the numbers will be made public.

Red Cross questions

Alberta Red Cross is also facing transparency questions when it comes to flood relief.

Red Cross disaster manager John Byrne says all of the money raised for Alberta relief goes into a fund that is earmarked for this disaster, but there is a maximum five per cent administration fee.

"So far we've gotten a $25 million response to this," he said. 

"It is a significant amount of money. However, when you look at the amount of people that are affected, $25 million is not a lot of money."

Byrne says he knows from experience that people will need assistance for months and often the people who need the most help are the last ones to come forward.

He is reminding people the fund is still open.

Canadian Red Cross calls the Alberta flood the largest natural disaster that it has ever dealt with in this country.

Louise Geoffrion, who has volunteered with Red Cross around the world for 20 years, arrived from Ottawa last week.

"We sometimes talk about the Hollywood syndrome where you see a movie in two hours, the disaster happens in the first half of the movie and then by the end of the movie everything is back to normal," she said. "Unfortunately that's not the reality."