N.W.T. dedicates $5 million to immediate flood relief

The N.W.T. is immediately setting aside $5 million to flood relief efforts in the Dehcho and Beaufort Delta, but that amount is expected to increase as the territory learns more about the true extent of the damage. 

$3 million already spent on cots, food hampers and accommodations for flood victims

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek says the Department of Municipal Affairs needs five million dollars to deal with the immediate costs of the flooding in the Dehcho. It also provides a "cushion" for some costs that the government will incur as the recovery goes on. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The N.W.T. government has set aside $5 million for flood relief efforts in the Dehcho and Beaufort Delta, but that amount is expected to increase as the territory learns more about the true extent of the damage. 

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs already spent three of that $5 million in immediate costs for flood victims, including for food hampers, cots and camping supplies. 

Setting aside the money gives the department a "cushion" to pay for things as they come up, Wawzonek said.

In May, hundreds of people were displaced from their homes in Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River and Fort Good Hope as water levels rose to historic highs along the Mackenzie River. 

Last week, Aklavik announced a state of emergency and evacuated most of their residents to Inuvik. Many in all four communities are still not back in their homes. 

Funding to help rebuild 60 to 80 homes

Wawzonek said the funding is expected to help between 60 and 80 homes in the affected communities. It's not clear whether that number includes houses from all four communities, or just those in the Dehcho. Those numbers could fluctuate, she continued, as more assessments are completed. 

The five-million-dollar figure was buried on the last page of the territorial government's second supplementary estimates document. It outlines any unexpected costs that were not included in the N.W.T.'s operational budget. 

Ice mounts Fort Simpson's riverbank in early May. At the height of the flood, there was between 400-700 people either displaced at a campground in the community or living in Fort Smith's arena. (Submitted by Jonathan Antoine)

That means it was the last thing on the agenda in an extended six-and-a-half-hour sitting of the legislature Thursday night. 

Kevin O'Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake, called the territory out for waiting until the end of the day to discuss "the most important thing" on the agenda.

Money won't go directly to flood victims 

MLAs questioned Wawzonek about whether this new funding would be given straight to flood victims. 

"I'm getting complaints as a Yellowknife MLA that there's no way to get money into people's pockets right now," O'Reilly told the minister. "Not one cent of this money is allocated for that purpose. " 

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says the government needs to find a way to get money into the hands of victims as soon as possible. (CBC)

In a lengthy response, Wawzonek doubled down on the territory's messaging: that anyone impacted by the floods needs to fill out a disaster assistance policy form to get reimbursed for their essentials. 

She did acknowledge people's concerns about not having cash immediately available, so she said the department is looking into accomodations for that. 

Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, and O'Reilly commented on how difficult it will be for non-English speakers to understand the disaster relief forms. 

That form is going to hamstring us. You need to fix this, now.- Kevin O'Reilly, Frame Lake MLA 

"That form is going to hamstring us," O'Reilly said. "You guys need to fix this now." 

Then Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave, re-iterated her question from session earlier this week, about whether the territory would hire community members on short-term contracts to help with the assessments and filling out forms. 

Simpson backed her up, saying the territory could bring on student hires to "go knock on doors" in the affected communities.

Wawzonek committed to looking into the idea, but said the department already has a good presence on the ground.

In the meantime, Wawzonek said the two navigators the territory hired to manage relief efforts in the communities, as well as other government employees on the ground, should be able to answer questions about the disaster assistance policy if needed. 

Disaster committee to decide who gets funding 

Wawzonek also said the territory has set up a disaster assistance committee, under the direction of the Department of Municipal Affairs. Their job is to create a list of recoverable costs, coordinate the recovery process and make recommendations for claim payments. 

Nokleby directed most of her questions to the minister about this committee. She wanted to figure out whether community knowledge would be incorporated. 

"I think people situated in the community would have better judgment on what a property was like prior than, say, a bureaucrat from Yellowknife who doesn't know Fort Simpson," she said. 

Katrina Nokleby in the Legislative Assembly.
Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave, says locals should be involved in the territory's property assessment process because they know more about the state of the properties before the flood than those coming in from Yellowknife. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The committee is made up of assistant deputy ministers from Yellowknife and members from the affected communities, Wawzonek said. 

The minister said the department will release monthly expenditure reports for this committee, similar to ones already being written by the COVID-19 secretariat. 

Members passed the estimates unanimously at the end of the half-hour debate.