Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly is calling on the territorial government to increase the amount available to businesses and owners through the GNWT disaster assistance program following a historic flood this year.

Whelly said the existing policy was last updated more than a decade ago and is not reflective of what Fort Simpson businesses or homeowners need as they strive to recover.

The limit that homeowners and businesses can apply for is $100,000.

“You can’t fix $200,000 worth of damage if the policy only allows $100,000, and so something has to give,” said Whelly, who added that neighbouring jurisdictions, such as Alberta, allow residents and business owners who have suffered disasters, especially climate-related, to apply for up to $500,000 per residential property and per business.

He also pointed out that the NWT policy is dated from 2005 while in Alberta and PEI, their programs were revised in 2020.

The program is largely federally funded. The Government of Canada lays out disaster assistance guidelines for provinces and territories for regional programs, but after that, the NWT is responsible for the minimum or maximum amounts doled out to residents and businesses.

The territorial government covers 80 per cent while the business or homeowner has to assume the remaining 20 per cent, and that’s a problem, according to Whelly.

In Alberta, the provincial government is responsible for 90 per cent of the cost.

The department would not comment on the NWT’s rate versus other jurisdictions. However, Jay Boast, the department’s media spokesperson, stated: “The GNWT has coordinated damage assessments and agreed to coordinate and cover repairs to pre-disaster conditions on eligible impacted homes — this is above and beyond a 90 per cent rate.”

Shane Thompson, GNWT minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, who also represents the Dehcho communities affected, said in an Aug. 3 letter to the mayor that the department is planning a review of the policy this year but not immediately.

“A review of the DAP at this time is not doable because the department is focused on working with flood-impacted people and businesses,” Thompson stated. “A review takes time as it involves a jurisdictional review, discussions with the federal government about what is covered and discussions at the cabinet table about what funding the GNWT can provide.

“This year’s flooding has highlighted a need for a review of the DAP and the department will prioritize this along with other key initiatives and mandate items,” the minister added. “I have asked the department to put some priority to this because climate change events are occurring on a more frequent basis.”

‘In no way reflective’

The other complaint that the village has is that there are rigid restrictions on what constitutes whether a business can receive disaster assistance, Whelly said.

For example, to claim money on a damaged enterprise, NWT business owners must be drawing the majority of their income from the operation and it must be the main source of livelihood. Also, there’s a revenue maximum of $2 million.

“There are several instances in Fort Simpson of people who own multiple businesses in which case, which is their main livelihood?” Whelly asked. “If you have a job where you are making slightly more than a business, and you’ve been around for years, what is your livelihood? Where do you make your most amount of money?

“It is in no way reflective of the current situation in Fort Simpson,” he said. “Several businesses in Fort Simpson are going to lose because their losses will be higher than the $100,000 maximum in the NWT. The main livelihood term is not defined, but in Fort Simpson it has been used as a means test. If someone earns more money from any other source, their business is deemed ineligible.“

Whelly said that rates should be increased to meet high costs for materials in the North. It would send a positive signal to the business community that it’s worth risking private ventures, he added.

Boast said the department has attempted to account for those realities for homeowners.

“The GNWT recognizes that construction costs are higher in the NWT,” he said. “As such, it has increased the assessed costs for the reconstruction of impacted homes to make up for higher construction costs in the territory.”

He also acknowledged that the current program has limitations.

“The DAP is not an insurance program and therefore does not provide full compensation for damage or loss,” Boast said. “The department is confident that its plan to support the reconstruction of homes impacted by flooding in Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River and Fort Good Hope will more than adequately address the recovery of these structures to pre-flood conditions.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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