Harper Nenshi Redford Alberta Flood Watch

Image via Stephen Harper

[twitter]What an outpouring of community support Calgary has seen in the days since the Calgary Flood. Communities, colleagues, friends, and strangers have pitched in with an epic effort to clean things up and get our city back on track.

Macleod Trail was wiped out and rebuilt in a day. The Trans Canada Highway saw efforts from 140 people putting in 13 000 man hours  to have it reopen in record time.

And then fundraising. Within hours of the flood’s devastation being recognized, companies like Shaw and Cenovus had already pledged $1M each for the efforts. On a smaller scale, kids were holding lemonade stands, the Calgary Food Trucks were holding festivals, designers are selling charity tshirts, orphans from Cambodia are making donations, and moms and dads were holding talent shows, all with the idea of raising money to support those with ruined homes and neighborhoods.

Most of these monies are being earmarked for the Canadian Red Cross. In fact, they have raised in excess of $10M in less than a week. When disaster strikes, it’s the charity that first comes to mind, but I’m not so sure that’s where all the money should go. It sounds like a backwards argument, but I’d like to see all the fundraising and donations go to .. the government.

The Red Cross didn’t pay to have Edmonton’s police come to help Calgary with security during those first dark nights. The Red Cross didn’t pay to have the Canadian Forces rush to High River to rescue people stranded by the waters. The Red Cross did not pay the crews who worked so diligently to restore power, repair roads, and pick up garbage.

The government paid for all those things. And it’s going to be an even bigger bill. Alison Redford has promised that each Albertan displaced by the floods will receive up to $1250 each. She has pledged that nobody will be out of pocket. With overland flood insurance not available in Canada, she has promised that devastated homes will get rebuilt.

The price tag? 1 billion dollars. To start.

That’s a bill that will come back down to you and I. That’s a bill that will now affect the federal and provincial budgets and will be felt by ministries like health and education as the government tries to find the funds to cover the unexpected disaster.

The Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements require Ottawa to pay 90 per cent of disaster relief costs over $5 per capita of provincial population, a very low threshold. Five dollars per capita in Alberta is about $18-million – about the cost of a new high school. Estimates of damages from the current flooding in Alberta run as high as $5-billion. Ms. Redford could promise to pay 100 per cent of all damages without knowing what the total bill will be because she knows that the federal government will eventually cover most of the cost.
[globe and mail]

Last year, the entire municipal budget for High River was $23M.  They have just been handed a bank deposit of $50M from the Alberta government to start to clean things up. To start.  It is the government that is footing the bill of this effort.

And yet we donate to the Red Cross. Yes, they do good work as a valuable agency for rebuilding in areas of the world where the government is ill-equipped, unable, or not willing to rebuild after disaster, but Alberta and Calgary’s government have already said they will do that. The initial crisis has passed, and even that response was largely covered off by volunteers and government agencies.

Giving money to the Red Cross to support Alberta flood relief does not put money in the hands of the people who need it for long term recovery. The Red Cross is great with blankets, and cots, but cannot help build roads and buildings.


As painful as it is to believe, it is the government that needs our help.

So let’s start a local, government owned charitable arm for flood donation. Let’s call it the Alberta Flood Fund. Give it all the same tax benefits as a real charity, (tax receipts for donations, etc), but get the money into the general revenue of the province to help pay for what we need. Everyone wants to pitch in and help neighbors rebuild. It is the government that will be doing that, not the Red Cross.

**UPDATE** The Red Cross has been very good at answering questions via Twitter for people wondering about the relief efforts. You can ask them anything via @RedCrossCanada, @RedCrossAB, or @KarenSnider

**UPDATE 2:** The Mayor has put his support with The Calgary Foundation. If you have money to donate, this would be a good place to put it.

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  1. ChadC June 30, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Interesting view. I appreciate the efforts of the Red Cross, but there are some good points in here. Good, thought-provoking article.

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