Minister lacks 'level of detail' to answer most questions on flood assistance, N.W.T. MLAs hear

When questioned about the government’s plans to support flood victims in repairing their homes, Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna repeatedly came up blank.

MLAs frustrated by attempts to clarify disaster assistance for flood victims

N.W.T. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Paulie Chinna said repeatedly she lacked the 'level of detail' necessary to respond to MLAs questions about flood relief Thursday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

N.W.T. MLAs grew increasingly frustrated Thursday as the minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, Paulie Chinna, repeatedly said she lacked the "level of detail" necessary to answer their questions on the first day of the latest sitting of the N.W.T. legislature.

Chinna faced a barrage of questions about flood assistance in the wake of a briefing with MLAs that left many even more confused about how to access emergency funds.

Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, Sr. asked Chinna whether her department was working to provide "immediate financial support" to flood-affected communities.

"I will have to get back to the member," Chinna replied. "Right now the department is very concentrated on the repairing of the units, so we can have people return to their homes."

But when Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly opened fire with questions about the assessment process for accessing disaster relief funds for repairs, Chinna repeatedly came up short.

"Do community governments, Indigenous governments have the ability to hire their own experts [to perform assessments]… and then seek reimbursement from the government, to move this along quickly?" he asked.

"I don't have that level of detail," Chinna responded.

MLA Kevin O’Reilly chairing Tuesday's public briefing on flood relief that left many MLAs with more questions. On Thursday, he said multiple times the minister had failed to answer his questions. (Walter Strong/CBC)

"I know it's question period and I don't have to, necessarily, get answers, but I still don't have an answer to that question," O'Reilly quipped in response.

"Do homeowners have the ability to seek a second opinion?" he asked. "What is the process for resolving … a dispute?"

"That is quite the level of detail that I don't have with me right now," Chinna replied. "I don't have that level of detail."

Given rising costs for lumber and materials, O'Reilly countered, is the government doing any "pre-positioning" for major repairs?

"I need staff to do an assessment," Chinna replied.

'Our government was there': Premier

In her opening statement to MLAs, Premier Caroline Cochrane asserted that her "government was there to provide support however it was needed" to flood victims.

But criticism from community leadership has grown louder in recent days as the territory has repeatedly touted a disaster assistance program that few have been able to decipher.

More than half of homes in Jean Marie River were damaged by historic flooding earlier this month, and more than 700 people were displaced from Fort Simpson.

Many are still living in makeshift shelters and 'tent cities' in nearby communities, unable to return to their homes.

Meanwhile, communities further down the Mackenzie River are preparing for their own flooding, with people in Aklavik bracing for high water in the coming days

WATCH | After seeing Dehcho ravaged by floodwaters, Aklavik, N.W.T., prepares:

Aklavik, N.W.T., residents prepare for potential flooding

4 months ago
The small community of Aklavik, N.W.T., is preparing for severe flooding as water levels rise and several other communities downstream were evacuated because of spring floods. 2:11

In the legislature, Simpson said that while assessments are underway in many affected communities, it is still unclear "how payments or reimbursements are to be made."

"All of this can be confusing to someone who is traumatized and just looking to survive," he said.

Chinna did say the government was "working right now" on identifying local "program navigators" who could provide residents with assistance filing paperwork and accessing funds.

But in response to questions about dispersing those funds, Chinna repeatedly referenced ongoing discussions with the federal government about what information will be needed to access federal emergency assistance.

"We are looking at the disaster application, and what details are required," she said. 

But her answer, ultimately, returned to a familiar refrain.

"Right now, I don't have an update to provide to the member," she said.

With files from Anna Desmarais


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