WEST CARLETON – Two days out from the dark, six-month anniversary of the day tornadoes tore through West Carleton, destroying nearly 100 buildings from Kinburn to Dunrobin, many trying to get their lives back together, are still waiting for the promised support from the provincial government.
Premier Doug Ford was in West Carleton two days after the Sept. 21 tornado. He visited the temporary support shelter set up at West Carleton Secondary School, offered words of support, a warm hug and pledged the province’s full support.
“We’ll get everyone back on their feet,” Ford told an afternoon news conference.
For West Carleton Disaster Relief (WCDR), the volunteer organization spearheading disaster relief, they are still waiting for that provincial support, or at least, a reply. There are more than 136 West Carleton families registered with the WCDR.
“The premier has not followed through on the promises he made in September,” WCDR vice president and media relations Angela Bernhardt told West Carleton Online yesterday (March 18). “He promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ and he has ignored reasoned requests for minor changes to the disaster recovery program that would help out affected residents.”
Bernhardt, and fellow WCDR board member Len Russell, have previous experience in disaster relief and the Disaster Recovery Assistance Ontario (DRAO) program.
“For better or for worse, Len and I had experience with the DRAO from the floods in Constance Bay (in 2017),” Bernhardt said. “We understand the limitations of the program and its intent. We knew DRAO would fail farms and small businesses. This is why, in October, we set out to bring forward some minor changes that would not require legislation.”
The WCDR sent two pieces of correspondence to the premier and the DRAO office, via the MPP on Oct. 8 and Oct. 20 which included 13 recommendations they felt would improve the program in a way that would help those who need it most.
“We did not receive a response,” Bernhardt said.
Coun. Eli El-Chantiry’s office sent a similar letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, on Oct. 25.
“His office did receive a response in which the minister stated they would take our recommendations into consideration during future reviews of the program,” Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt says Carleton-Kanata MPP Merillee Fullerton “listened to our concerns and passed them on. We have not had any response directly to our letter sent through her office Oct. 20.”
All of this one-way communication has left the WCDR, and the families struggling to deal with no home and a financial crunch, frustrated.
“There hasn’t been any ‘whatever it takes,’” Bernhardt said. “The premier even gave his card to Greg (Patacairk, co-chair of the WCDR) – who called Premier Ford and left a detailed message and has also tried to get through other ways – no response. The province has not taken our requests to change DRAO seriously. They have not responded to WCDR.”
And that is hurting those struggling to recover who are now in a deep financial hole. Many families are renting a home, while struggling with the getting their own home rebuilt and land cleaned up, while struggling to replace an entire home’s worth of personal belongings. Often families are told by their insurers to put the money up first and they will be reimbursed down the line.
Meanwhile, many West Carleton farmers and small businesses are also struggling to re-start their businesses. Agricultural land is filled with debris, dangerous materials, glass and sharp metal, making their land unusable for livestock or agricultural purposes.
“The DRAO program needs amendments to really help small business and farmers,” Bernhardt said. “We made recommendations in October. No response is definitely not ‘whatever it takes’.”
Following the tornado, around 111 Ontario applicants registered for the disaster relief program by the Jan. 21 deadline, but only seven victims have been paid so far, according to reports.
Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing claims the financial relief applicants are being paid as quickly as possible, but only some are eligible for the payout. The ministry says more than $135,000 has been recompensed to date.
El-Chantiry says of the nearly 100 buildings destroyed by the tornado, 36 were residential homes, with 24 that need to be either demolished or fully renovated.
For the most complete coverage of the Sept. 21 tornado and its long-reaching, and long-lasting effects, click here.