Trudeau urges Canadians to give to B.C. wildfires fund, but feds aren't matching donations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged people over the weekend to donate to the Canadian Red Cross to help British Columbians affected by raging wildfires. But his government isn't pledging to match the funds donated by the public.

Federal programs to match charitable donations usually focused on international disasters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in Revelstoke, B.C. Sunday at a Canadian Red Cross fundraiser for victims of the wildfires in British Columbia. (Jeff Bassett/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged people over the weekend to donate to the Canadian Red Cross to help British Columbians affected by raging wildfires and he made a similar appeal for Ontario and Quebec flood victims earlier this year.

However unlike many international disasters like the earthquakes in Nepal two years ago or in Haiti in 2010, Canada's appeal for domestic donations isn't shored up by a pledge that the government will pony up an equal amount of cash to match the individual donors.

The federal government has had matching contribution programs for more than a dozen international events since 2004, but it has only ever done it once for a natural disaster in Canada, the massive wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta. last year.

The government matched $104.5 million donated to the Canadian Red Cross to respond to the forest fire which forced evacuation of the entire northeastern Alberta city.

Kimberley Nemrava, Canadian Red Cross vice-president for British Columbia and Yukon, said such government involvement seems to make people more apt to reach into their wallets.

The Red Cross has seen a "bump in donations" whenever a government runs a matching program for charitable giving, she said.

"The feedback I have from donors is often that they like the concept of their funds being doubled," said Nemrava.

Different emergencies, different responses

The first international matching relief program was established to help after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and Canada has matched almost $800 million in charitable giving by Canadians for 12 other disasters since then.

That doesn't include the amounts donated for the African famine this spring, or up to $2 million Trudeau pledged in May to match donations to aid rebuilding efforts following earthquakes in Central Italy.

Most often the eligible donations to be matched can be made to a number of different aid agencies, although Canada's matching dollars don't always go to the same agencies, but rather to multinational organizations like the United Nations or the International Development Bank.

In the spring, Ottawa pledged $1 million to the Canadian Red Cross to aid families displaced by major flooding along the Ottawa River, St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

A week ago Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canada would contribute an amount equal to whatever the Canadian Red Cross spends on direct aid to registered fire evacuees in B.C. this summer. Trudeau made an appeal for people to donate during a stop in Revelstoke, B.C. on Saturday.

The agency is providing $600 to every family displaced, another $600 for those who can't return home for more than two weeks and $300 per family when they can return.

'Unique circumstances' in Fort McMurray

The Canadian Red Cross has received $9.6 million in donations since the first fire appeals began in the second week of July.

For Fort McMurray last year, Canadians donated $86 million in just 10 days following the Canadian government's announcement of matching funds.

In May Goodale told the Canadian Press the government would have to consider matching funds for spring flood victims but no announcement came. His spokesman said Sunday it was used for Fort McMurray because of "unique circumstances" but that normally national disasters are handled by the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements that helps cover provincial expenditures following floods, hurricanes, fires and the like.

When Trudeau announced the $2 million matching donation fund for the Italian earthquakes he raised the ire of Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who complained Italy was a rich country.

"Can't we use taxpayers $ (dollars) on our flood victims," he tweeted May 14.

A Conservative Party spokesman said nobody would comment on the matter right now because of the ongoing crises faced by British Columbia's wildfires.


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