06 November 2007

Emergency confuddles

Someone released a bunch of letters between the provincial and federal governments about emergency response funding.

From a media standpoint, yesterday belonged to the feds:

The province argues Ottawa has not made good on outstanding claims for flooding in Stephenville in 2005 and a storm surge in February 2006. The province asked in August for an advance on damages caused by Tropical Storm Chantal.

But federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, in letters to the province obtained by CBC News, said that the ball is in the province's court, and that the federal government has not received the appropriate paperwork.

Newly minted municipal affairs minister Dave Denine responded today with a news release.

There's a brave attempt to blame the federal government, but the essence of the release is contained in the lede, namely the provincial government is having problems collecting because it is having problems, "most of which relate to difficulties associated with requirements under federal accounting and audit processes."

There's nothing surprising in that, nor in the subsequent paragraph in which Denine says that information is submitted, further information is requested by the feds and that - quite obviously - slows the process. Anyone who has dealt with the federal government, especially in the wake of Gomery, will know that federal financial controls are pretty stringent. That may come as a bit of a culture shock to people used to dealing with - ooooh, maybe the House of Assembly - but the federal system is the kind of accounting and audit system one would expect from a competent administration looking after other people's, i.e. public, money.

At that point, though, Denine's release goes a bit off the rails:

"Federal representatives have made misleading statements to the media in stating that they have made advancements of $21 million in recent years. In fact, these payments date back to events between 1973 and the present," said Minister Denine. "We are also concerned about statements made by federal officials that advance federal payments can be provided to the province when, in reality, the federal program does not provide for any payments, advance or otherwise, until work has been completed and documentation is submitted which, in some cases, can take years."

That comes right after he acknowledges this:

In relation to events since 2000, the province has received $7.1 million in interim payments from the Federal Government through the DFAA program, including $2.3 million for Storm Surge 2000, $2.6 million for Tropical Storm Gabrielle 2001, $1.0 million for Badger Flood 2003, and $1.2 million for West Coast Flood 2003. [Italics added]

That's basically what the feds claimed in their letters. "interim". "advance". Potato, potato.

After trying to accuse the federal officials of making misleading statements, Denine gets back to the core of the issue: the provincial government has been having some consistent problems in getting the paperwork filled out properly. And yes, to its credit, this administration has put in place a new emergency response organization within government that takes emergency services out of the basement and gives it the prominence it deserves.

And, unfortunately for those who really want to understand emergency response, Denine leaves the most important point to the end: emergency response is a provincial responsibility. The provincial government policies should provide compensation and it is the provincial government which is reimbursed for its costs.

The people should not be inconvenienced, if they are at all.

Has anyone bothered ask if the province hasn't been compensating people until it receives federal cash?