Windsor

Opposition leaders blast provincial disaster relief program as inadequate

The province needs to improve a disaster relief assistance fund that left scores of Windsor homeowners wanting after last year's flooding and may leave them high and dry again, say the leaders of Ontario's opposition parties.

'When a disaster occurs, relief needs to be available — it can't be a false promise'

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath (centre) toured flood damage in hard-hit areas of Windsor Thursday along with MPP Percy Hatfield (left) and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. (DO NOT USE: BETTER IMAGE IN POLOPOLY)

The province needs to improve a disaster relief assistance fund that left scores of Windsor homeowners wanting after last year's flooding and may leave them high and dry again, say the leaders of Ontario's opposition parties.

"I have serious questions about the effectiveness of this program, and the lack of a sufficient response from this Liberal government," said Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown in an open letter addressed to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"People who need help aren't getting help. The point of disaster relief is that when a disaster occurs, relief needs to be available — it can't be a false promise."

NDP leader Andrea Horwath toured this flood-ravaged area Thursday and encountered frustrated residents and mountains of flood-damaged furniture and personal items. She said it was unacceptable it took the province a week to deem area homeowners eligible to apply for disaster relief and implored the government to expeditiously provide aid.

"It is important that this assistance start flowing without needless delays or red tape," said Horwath in an open letter to Wynne. "There are still over 200 victims of the 2016 flood waiting for their claim through the program to be processed."

Wynne tweeted last week that her government would "do everything we can to help" but has yet to visit the area or make herself available for an interview with CBC Windsor. Calls made to her office Friday were returned by Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro.

Mauro blasted his political opponents for offering criticism without making "concrete suggestions on how to improve the program" and said the program was "well-regarded and well-respected by municipal officials."

He said the program was revamped just two years ago and that eligible homeowners now receive aid more promptly.

The program provides "partial financial assistance to return essential property to its basic function," according to the ministry's website, but flooding caused by "sewer backup is not generally eligible under the program" though "there is a special provision to provide assistance to low-income households."

That means scores of homeowners are unlikely to qualify for assistance. Of the 583 city residents who applied for funding after last year's floods, only 122 received any financial assistance. Another 235 claims were denied and another 226 remained bogged down in the system. 

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said the program left dozens of Windsor residents "disgruntled and disappointed" after last September's flooding and doesn't want history to repeat itself.

Mauro stressed the program was unique in that it provided sewer backup protection for low-income families and that sewer backup insurance was available for purchase.

"The program is not intended to be a replacement for private insurance. There is insurance available for sewer backup, there is not insurance available for overland flooding," said Mauro. "It sounds like some are suggesting we should be paying for consequences that have private sector insurance available to cover them."

Horwath also urged the government to help secure more garbage trucks and "expedite permits to allow garbage trucks from Michigan to cross the border" and help clear city streets.

"The province must do its part to help Windsor families put their experience behind them and get back to their lives," said Horwath. "I urge you to act without delay and assist the people of Windsor in their time of need."

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