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Minister failing NWT flood victims

Chinna’s failures rising faster than Mackenzie river

The minister responsible for Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) and the NWT Housing Corporation has made a habit of effectively ignoring reasonable and timely requests from NWT communities and fellow MLAs.

This has led to unreasonable delays in emergency assistance for Fort Simpson and, in another case, a federal funding denial for a transitional housing project in Yellowknife.

While students were able to return to school in Fort Simpson after flood waters receded last week, MACA still hadn’t assessed the damage.

Meanwhile, News/North reported on May 21 that Mayor Sean Whelly said he’s less than impressed with the slow response from the territory.

He said he’s calling on the territorial government to “step up,” “put their money where their mouth is,” and “stand by their commitment to do the work.”

“We knew the flooding was coming and they still didn’t have an assessor around.”

As for financial aid, Whelly said he and his community still don’t have answers on how they would apply for funding from Minister Paulie Chinna’s department.

This is not the first time a municipal leader has called out the minister for inaction. Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty took to Facebook in February 2020 to express her frustration that a Yellowknife housing deal was in the wood chipper after the city and the housing corporation had already hammered out the details.

Basically, Chinna’s department failed to voice support for the project, which would have provided 42 transitional housing units to support Yellowknife residents experiencing homelessness.

MACA came under fire on March 31, when MLA Rocky Simpson tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to extract details of the department’s plans for flood response and relief.

Chinna responded by noting, “the Town of Hay River experienced this just last spring,” and then, “I was briefed at my last briefing … that they (the Town of Hay River) were working on a federal application for the disaster fund to work with those affected residents by the high water levels.”

Simpson replied: “I think she misunderstood my question; it was what they are doing for breakup this year.”

He referenced the lack of support from the department, financial and otherwise, when parts of Hay River flooded last year, asking:

“Can we expect the same treatment, or are we going to show some compassion if the same thing happens during breakup?”

Chinna only pointed back at the Town of Hay River, saying, “the application for federal aid was supposed to be submitted.”

When pressed by Simpson for specifics on whether MACA personnel would be present at breakup to ensure that decisions are timely and support would be there, Chinna said only that her staff would provide assistance from the department’s regional office in Hay River.

Fast forward to recent flooding in the Deh Cho, where in Fort Simpson, children returned to school without MACA first assessing the damage.

None of these events were a surprise.

MACA has had financial relief for potential flood victims for this year on the books since February 2021. That’s when it released the updated Community Government, Small Business and Resident Guide for its Disaster Assistance Policy.

The document details MACA’s intent to take responsibility for providing flood-related financial aid but falls short of explaining exactly how residents can access funds, indicating only that the MACA regional superintendent will act as the point of contact. “Claim forms and submission contacts and deadlines will be made available,” it states.

As of press time, the only response from either department under Chinna’s leadership has been from a MACA spokesperson.

Jay Boast, spokesperson for MACA, stated that an information package on disaster assistance had been shared with communities. He said that MACA struck a recovery disaster assistance committee “which will engage impacted communities in the coming days and that community representatives from the emergency management organization are in regular contact with GNWT.”

It was not a good look to see Chinna struggling to answer the questions of MLAs on a critical file, again.  Based on the frustration they and other elected leaders like Whelly have shown, it is clear the ministerial level is far from the only place in the MACA apparatus with communications breakdowns.

The residents of the NWT displaced by flooding and the politicians elected to represent them deserve more than a redux of Chinna’s bumbled response to the Yellowknife housing proposal.

There is too much important work to be done this summer – remember the plan to build dozens of public housing units before the snow flies in communities across the NWT – for our leadership to be scrambling for answers.