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Red Cross matching program in Fort McMurray questioned by charity watchdog

A charity watchdog group is slamming the federal government for only matching donations to the Red Cross as it collects millions for the residents of Fort McMurray.

Canadians have given the Red Cross $30M so far and the federal government is matching

Volunteers load water for evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires at the evacuation centre in Lac la Biche, Alta., on Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A charity watchdog group is slamming the federal government for only matching donations to the Red Cross as it collects millions for the residents of Fort McMurray.

Tens of thousands of people from the northern oil and gas community have been evacuated or are in the process of being evacuated, as wildfires continue to ravage the area.

Canadians have given the Red Cross about $30 million so far and the Canadian government has agreed to match those donations.

Kate Bahen of Charity Intelligence Canada wonders if some local organizations are missing out.

Kate Bahen of Charity Intelligence Canada says local front line charities are missing out when the federal government chooses to match donations only for the Red Cross. (CBC)

"Everybody wants to help and they are thinking about giving now and they donate to the Red Cross which is terrific," Bahen told Carol Off of CBC's As It Happens on Friday.

"It is wonderful to see that support but it is … local front line charities that get completely overlooked."

"When people return to Fort McMurray, it is these charities, the United Way of Fort McMurray, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fort McMurray, Salvation Army Fort McMurray, it is these local charities … that are going to be doing the lion's share of the work and they do not get the donations," she said.

"All the money is going to the Red Cross."

Key role in rebuilding communities

Bahen said it was a cross section of non-profits that helped communities in recent disasters.

"Looking back at the Lac-Mégantic train derailment, looking back at the Calgary floods in 2013, when we looked at the response, it was local front line charities that we were so impressed with. They were on the ground, they responded quickly and they played a key role in the rebuilding of the communities."

When criticized for the pace of fund distribution in previous campaigns such as the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Canadian Red Cross has said it takes a longer term approach to aid.

"The majority of our projects have completed," spokesperson Nathan Huculak said in 2015 of Haiti efforts when it was revealed $32 million of funds raised for Haiti had not been spent five years later.

Huculak added at the time, remaining funds were earmarked for future projects in the Caribbean country.

Local charities got less than 2 per cent

Bahen said recent disasters show a disparity between what Red Cross receives and other groups, which is magnified by government matching programs.

"In the 2013 Alberta floods the Red Cross received $43 million, local charities received less than two per cent of that yet they had to do the bulk of the work," she said.

"I do hope that we all pay attention and we all read the reports from the Red Cross. It has been given this incredible responsibility by all Canadians."

With files from CBC's As It Happens

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