As Dehcho rebuilds, MLAs puzzled by N.W.T. gov't assistance plan

During a public briefing on Tuesday, the N.W.T. government's flood response in the Dehcho was put under a microscope. MLA's questioned the government's flood assistance plan, demanding more details and answers.

Victims of flood must pay out-of-pocket for repairs, then be reimbursed

Communities along the Deh Cho saw historic flooding, which displaced over 700 hundred people. Residents are still waiting to find out the extent of damage facing their properties so they can move forward. (Submitted by Jonathan Antoine)

Residents of the Dehcho are trying to rebuild their homes, businesses and communities in the wake of a disastrous flood, but many are left in the dark about what assistance is available to them, and how they can access it. 

During a public briefing of the N.W.T. government's standing committee on accountability and oversight Tuesday evening, Dehcho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge said residents navigating disaster assistance policies want to know "why the government is reneging on their word that the government is going to provide full assistance to them."

Earlier this month, communities along the Deh Cho (Mackenzie River) saw historic flooding, which displaced over 700 hundred people. Residents are still waiting to find out the extent of damage facing their properties so they can move forward. 

Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River residents can be reimbursed for costs to repair their homes through the disaster assistance policy, but that policy needs clarification, said MLAs.

"It's very hard for people right now," said Bonnetrouge.

'Very confused' about disaster assistance policy

MLA Kevin O’Reilly, who chaired the public briefing on Tuesday, said “we need more specificity” when it comes to how the territorial government will be financially supporting residents. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly said he's puzzled about the N.W.T. government's plans to support victims of flooding, as some remain unable to return to their homes.

"If we're not getting answers here, I hate to think what it's like for folks on the ground," said MLA Kevin O'Reilly during that briefing.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said throughout the entire briefing, it wasn't clear what people in Dehcho communities should be doing to access disaster relief money. 

"I'm still very confused as to how the disaster assistance policy applies to residents," he said. 

A spokesperson for Department of Municipal and Community Affairs said the disaster assistance policy is "not a compensation or an insurance program."

In fact, it's "purely an assistance program," which means people must use their own funds to pay for repairs upfront, then be reimbursed through the fund.

Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna said getting those funds flowing is "a very complicated process" and the policy is due for a review.

"We heavily rely ... on the disaster application and the funding from the federal government," she said. 

Flood victims need to be the 'focus,' not on the 'fine print'

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos says victims of the flooding should be the focus, not the 'fine print.' (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

MLAs said the bureaucracy moves too slowly, and fails to meet the needs of flood victims in search of adequate housing.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby worried the government is going to get "bogged down" and have difficulty housing people before winter.

"The North is tough and I want to see people in proper housing now, not waiting until they're freezing," she said.

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said leadership must "ensure that the victims of the flood are the focus and not on fine print."

"I know how it feels when a victim of the disaster comes to you and there's no response," she said. 

N.W.T. gov't needs to 'step up'

Mayor Sean Whelly gives an update to CBC on the flooding in Fort Simpson. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

During an interview last Friday, Mayor of Fort Simpson Sean Whelly said the territorial government "needs to step up now." 

So far, assessing the damage to homes and planning rebuilding efforts has mostly fallen on residents, local officials, volunteers, and essential workers within the community. 

He said that the municipality cannot bear the burden much longer because they don't have the funding or personnel to support this massive undertaking. He said they need the backing of the much larger territorial government. 

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly, who chairs the standing committee, said "we need more specificity" on how the territorial government will financially support residents. 

O'Reilly wondered how people are feeling, when they're balancing paying for repairs, putting food on the table, and seeking accommodations while repairs are underway.

The N.W.T. government needs "somebody on the ground to help navigate all of these kinds of services," he said.

Chinna visited the Dehcho during the flood and saw the impacts the disaster had on residents. 

"I could have went in a lot earlier," Chinna acknowledged, but said local leadership did not "want the minister to come in at that time." 

As she talked to leaders, residents, and volunteers, she said she saw "room for improvement and how we can better support the community."

Rebuilding will be a "lengthy process," said a spokesperson MACA, "however, we are intending to move as quickly as we can on this."