The first of what will be a lot of federal money is en route to Alberta to help pay for the Fort McMurray fire. The feds are cutting the province an initial cheque of about $300 million.
That money is to help pay for rebuilding efforts and the initial expenses like the operations centre that went well above and beyond it’s normal work load.
“This is the quickest turnaround ever getting money out the door to support the rebuild of a community that has been affected in the way that Fort McMurray has,” Veterans Affairs Minister and Calgary MP Kent Hehr said Friday after a meeting of federal and provincial ministers at the Legislature.
The money is based on a pre-existing agreement between Ottawa and the provinces that dates back to the 1970s. “There’s a portion of the loss that will be compensated at ninety percent,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. “It is a sliding scale so the higher end involves a larger proportion of federal contribution.”
“The way the formula works, the larger the disaster the larger share the Government of Canada picks up,” Goodale said.
Early indications have the cost of fighting the fire running well into the billions of dollars based on projections from the provincial government.
“I want to thank the federal government for their tremendously swift response and support and for their commitment today to expedite the advance payment,” said Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee.
Goodale said they won’t have a good accounting of damage totals for some time. “There’s not been a lot of focus on the bean-counter side of this equation when you actually do up the puts and the takes and all the sums and get the arithmetic together. That process is just beginning.”
Other damages, like lost homes and property fall outside of the agreement.
“The fire for the most part is insurable,” Larivee said. “There’s the piece the provincial government is responsible for in terms of the response. Certainly the insurance industry can provide numbers as they pull them together in terms of what their costs are.”
The federal government is also providing $90 million to match relief donations made to the Red Cross in May. Alberta is spending $30 million to match donations made in the province.
The fire was burning away from Fort McMurray when high winds on May 3 caused it to make an abrupt about-face and race towards the city. More than 80,000 people had to leave their homes as the flames cut through several neighbourhoods. About one-tenth of the city’s buildings were destroyed.
Residents started returning earlier this month. Many found their homes still standing, but others were faced with a wasteland of ash and toxic debris.
(sj-with files from the Canadian Press)