Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson in the Legislative Assembly on October 20, 2020.
Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson has pressed the Northwest Territories government to offer more financial support to Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation wildfire evacuees.
Last week, the territorial government offered a one-time payment for residents who may have lost income as a result of the evacuation.
In the legislature on Tuesday, Simpson noted reports from evacuees that this payment had yet to be disbursed.
“The current financial support of $750 offered up … although welcome, does not go far enough for those already dealing with a high cost of living,” said Simpson.
Simpson said residents are still feeling the financial impact from 2022’s major flood in the area, and pointed out that the compensation plan offered by the GNWT excludes anyone who is unemployed.
Simpson then became the latest MLA to compare the NWT government’s compensation to the package being offered immediately south of the territory.
According to the province’s website, any Albertan living in a community under an evacuation order is eligible for compensation. Evacuees receive $1,250 per adult and an additional $500 per dependent child under 18 years. This means an evacuated family of four would receive $3,500.
Simpson asked NWT finance minister Caroline Wawzonek how the territorial government came up with the figure and terms currently being offered.
“What was the rationale for settling on a payment of $750 per person, and why was it based on income disruption and not on actual costs incurred, as this excludes many evacuees?” Simpson asked.
Wawzonek repeated her argument that the comparison with Alberta isn’t fair. The province’s evacuees amount to less than one percent of its population, she said, whereas the NWT was “looking at almost 10 percent of the population … being evacuated.”
Wawzonek said the compensation being offered by Alberta is higher than that available to evacuees in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
She said the NWT government did not possess the financial capacity to cover all the costs associated with the evacuation, so had prioritized offering services.
“Our first priority was to minimize costs,” said Wawzonek. “That’s where we stepped in and provided food, shelter, transportation, immediate toiletries. I realize folks don’t necessarily want to stay at the emergency evacuation shelters, but they were there, they were available, in order to minimize costs and to fill those gaps for folks who need it most.”
Wawzonek noted that the NWT’s income assistance program has offered additional compensation, including more support for those with dependents.
When will residents see the compensation?
Simpson said some of his constituents had reported filing for evacuee assistance on day one of the new program, with no sign yet of any funding in return to cover expenses like food and mortgage payments.
Wawzonek did not answer questions about the specifics of the payments’ timing, but said her department was “starting to see some applications come in” had prioritized the work required to approve each one.
Meanwhile, the federal government said on Wednesday it would match the money coming in to an evacuee fund established by the charity United Way NWT.
“We’ll have more information soon – but know this: We’ll make sure you have the support you need,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted.