Red Cross has distributed $27 million in Fiona donations, most to Nova Scotia, P.E.I.

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The Canadian Red Cross has distributed most of the millions raised to help those affected by post-tropical storm Fiona, and almost all of the money has gone to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Donations are not tracked by the donor's province, the agency said, and all money collected for Fiona relief is pooled to help people across Eastern Canada. "We cannot … specify that particular donations or percentages will be restricted for use in any one province or community," Red Cross spokesman Dan Bedell said in a recent email.

By the Red Cross numbers, hard-hit southwestern Newfoundland accounted for just a fraction of the donations distributed for Fiona relief. Brian Button, the mayor of Port aux Basques, N.L., said many in his region won't donate to the agency for exactly that reason — they want their money to go to those who need it most in Newfoundland.

The town has opened a local fund with the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union, where people can make contributions that will be earmarked for southwestern Newfoundland residents.

"It's going to be used directly just for members of our communities, not just Port aux Basques, but the surrounding area," Button said. "That's why a lot of people … they want it to go directly to the people here."

The town council will set up a steering committee to determine how the money will be distributed, he said. He could not provide an estimate of how much cash had been raised so far.

As of Thursday, the Red Cross had collected $30.9 million through its Hurricane Fiona in Canada Appeal campaign, Bedell said. The agency had distributed more than 54,000 payments of $500 to registered households across Eastern Canada, for a total of about $27.3 million, he added.

The bulk of the recipients were in P.E.I., with 26,500 households, and Nova Scotia, where nearly 22,000 households received cash. Fiona caused widespread power outages in both provinces when it tore through the region on the morning of Sept. 24. Many in P.E.I. and in Nova Scotia were without power for weeks.

Red Cross payments of $500 also went to 317 households in southwestern Newfoundland, where about 100 homes were destroyed by storm surge and waves reaching up to 16 metres high.

Bedell said nearly 6,000 households in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland received a second $500 payment because of "exceptional or unique needs," though he did not have a breakdown of recipients by province.

The Red Cross says it is still working with governments in all affected provinces to determine how to best spend the approximately $3.6 million in donations that have not yet been distributed.

Questions remain about the fate of about $1 million raised in St. John's during a fundraising concert called We Stand On Guard Again, held on Oct. 30. The money raised went to the Red Cross's Hurricane Fiona in Canada Appeal, and organizers say the agency assured them it would be earmarked for relief efforts specifically in Newfoundland.

However, Bedell said money raised by fundraisers — including benefit concerts — are used to assist all impacted areas, not just a single province.

"Each major fundraising appeal of the Canadian Red Cross has a clearly identified purpose, and in this case we have stated since it was first created that the Hurricane Fiona in Canada would be used to assist people in all impacted areas," Bedell said, noting that those areas include Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick and Quebec. "The people most impacted in any of those areas are entitled to similar support from the donations we receive."

Concert organizer Seamus O'Keefe said neither he nor the committee behind the show are concerned about the apparent conflicting messages.

"My understanding is, and as we were told, all the money raised in Newfoundland stays in Newfoundland," O'Keefe said in an interview Monday. "The Canadian Red Cross showed us great leadership, and we would never have gotten to a million dollars raised without the Red Cross .… I'm quite comfortable with the direction and the support we've gotten from the Red Cross."

The federal government pledged to match all the money raised through the Hurricane Fiona in Canada Appeal until the end of October. Bedell said the matching cash from Ottawa hasn't yet arrived.

"However, we know those funds are forthcoming, so our planning already incorporates those additional dollars," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press