We’re heading for an even more difficult road than need be the case.
Federal government cutting back on disaster assistance as floods become more severe
10 May, 2017
Even as the cost of flood damage has risen in recent years, the provinces have been forced to shoulder more of the burden because the federal government has made it harder for them to qualify for compensation from its disaster relief fund.
“The (federal) government doesn’t want to be in the business of disaster assistance anymore,” says Jason Thistlethwaite, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo. “It’s too expensive.”
After a natural disaster like the current severe flooding affecting parts of Quebec and Ontario, provinces can apply to the federal government to reimburse some of their costs through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program. In 2015, the Conservative government tripled the amount a provincial government had to spend on disaster relief to qualify for federal compensation. A province’s total relief bill must now be greater than $3.07 per capita before it can apply to Ottawa for funding. In Quebec, for instance, that threshold is about $25 million.
The change was made because Ottawa was doling out far more DFAA money than planned, Thistlethwaite said.
During a premiers’ meeting last summer, the provinces called on the federal government to restore funding for floods and other natural disasters. The changes, they argued, “substantially reduced the federal government’s share of disaster-related costs, offloading these onto individuals, provinces and territories.”
On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office said her government “remains committed” to that request.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office told the National Post the decision to raise the thresholds was made by the previous government.
In a statement this week, Conservative MP Steven Blaney, public safety minister when the change was made, said he was proud to have modernized the program to “ensure that emergency relief funding continues to be available to Canadians in a more sustainable way.”
Every threshold in the cost-sharing formula was raised at that time. Previously, the federal government would reimburse 90 per cent of costs above $5 per capita — about $41 million in Quebec. Now, that threshold is $15.17 per capita — roughly $124 million in Quebec.
The federal government has indeed been paying out far more than it planned for flood relief in recent years.