Alberta's Disaster Recovery Program Was A Disaster: Auditor

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A man pushes his bicycle through the floodwater in Canmore in 2013. Widespread flooding caused by torrential rains washed out bridges and roads prompting the evacuation of thousands. | Getty

EDMONTON — Alberta's auditor general is taking the province to task for overhauling its disaster recovery program while still handling the biggest natural disaster in its history.

Merwan Saher, in a report issued Wednesday, says the government put too great a strain on its resources after it announced in March 2014 that it would take over the program in-house.

The work previously had been done by an outside contractor.

Saher said that making the switch while Municipal Affairs was still dealing with the 2013 southern Alberta floods went against the advice of department officials and overwhelmed the department.

"The department did not have the capacity to deal with this magnitude of change,'' Saher said in the report.

Flood led to overwhelming aid applications

The June 2013 floods that hit parts of Calgary and southern Alberta led to more than 10,000 applications for aid.

Saher said there are still gaps in the program that need to be addressed for when the next disaster hits, such as hiring more project managers and implementing better project management practices.

"The department must further improve its program delivery systems to achieve the desired results,'' said Saher.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said the bureaucratic mess has had human costs, given that hundreds of people affected by the floods are still waiting for disaster assistance.

Clark said he has little faith that the officials who created the problems with the process will be able to fix them.

"This report shows that the unfortunate people who have to access (resource aid) after the next disaster will have exactly the same problems,'' said Clark in a news release.

"There's a big risk Alberta will miss out on hundreds of millions in federal funding because the program is so badly administered.''

Government says claims have been taken care of

Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said almost all the 2013 flood claims have been taken care of and, if not, have been expedited. Information technology systems have also been upgraded.

"To date, 99 per cent of files are closed,'' said Larivee.

She said her department has accepted all of Saher's recommendations to improve the process, and has already started to act on them.

"(I will) not make the same mistakes the previous government did,'' she said.

Wildrose critic Wayne Anderson said it's critical Larivee follows through.

"Many who have dealt with the (disaster recovery program) directly would tell you that the program quickly fell apart with ill-defined processes, inadequate staffing and inconsistent information,'' said Anderson.

"(There were) complicated applications, lost applications, and the typical bureaucratic merry-go-round that resulted in almost the re-victimization of those who suffered the most.''

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