P.E.I.'s response to Fiona dominates first legislature sitting since storm hit

CHARLOTTETOWN — Problems in the distribution of government aid payments following post-tropical storm Fiona dominated debate in Prince Edward Island’s legislature Tuesday, during the first sitting since the devastating storm barrelled through Atlantic Canada in September.

Premier Dennis King admitted that the payment rollout through the Canadian Red Cross was “imperfect,” though he defended the verification process residents faced in order to qualify for the money.

"Islanders do have to have faith in the government that they're not just giving away money to people," King said. "There are a lot of bad characters out there — and a lot of bad actors."

After Fiona wiped out power for most of the Island, the government offered residents a one-time payment of $250, to be distributed through the Red Cross. Some who registered for the money were asked to verify their identities in person at one of three Red Cross reception centres set up in the communities of Summerside and Montague, and in a downtown Charlottetown mall.

People burned gas money to travel long distances to be verified, and some were turned away upon arrival because the centres were at capacity, Green Party Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said.

"A lot of seniors, people with disabilities, people with chronic pain and other medical conditions, people with young children simply cannot stand in line for hours," Bevan-Baker said. "A question to the premier: do you think Islanders are right to feel frustrated about this process?"

King agreed that the distribution of money had its flaws. Still, he said, the government managed to get payments to tens of thousands of people in a short time.

As of Tuesday, more than 56,000 of the 60,429 Island households that registered for the payments had received them, Red Cross spokesperson Dan Bedell said in an interview. The agency, he added, is also offering one-time payments of $500 to Islanders, coming from donations made to the Red Cross. About 20,400 registered households have received those payments, Bedell said.

The verification process used on the Island is the same one for disaster relief efforts across the country, he said, adding that the "sheer volume" of households affected by Fiona across Atlantic Canada led to delays because the Red Cross had to transfer volunteers and staff into the region to help.

As for King's comments about bad actors trying to access money they weren't entitled to, "there's always a little bit of that," Bedell said.

"That's why there is a verification process. And that does require showing up and showing government-issued photo (identification)," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

The Canadian Press