The floods in late June of 2013 were unlike anything our province has every experienced before. It should come as no surprise that challenges and conflict arise when our livelihoods are at risk. The most recent communication between residents of High River and Heather Mack, Director of Government Relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, received from @okotoksNow is a great example of one set of challenges that we must face.
Insurance Providers are expected to be, in the common vernacular, "the good guys". We rely upon our Insurance Provider in times when we need it most, and we expect them to come and "save the day". When this doesn't happen, it is no surprise we leave the interaction very wounded.
It is obvious from this communication and the nature of the forum at the Flood Information Night on July 18, 2013, and many other meetings I’ve had since across Southern Alberta, that there are some very wounded people as a result of confusion with regards to insurance. There is a lot of uncertainty as to what is supposed to be covered, what impact independent adjusters have, why some receive coverage and others don't, what procedures are appropriate for adjusting a claim, and other issues of communication.
The Alberta Party endeavours to focus on common sense solutions, and believes it can govern this way. One such solution that would best serve Albertans is to appoint an independent Event-Specific Ombudsman, paid for through the Disaster Recovery Program, selected by the Superintendent of Insurance in Alberta, and given a strict set of parameters in their job description. Those parameters would include meeting with those who experience confusion with their insurance policies and helping to educate those individuals as to what their policies cover; assisting individuals in claims appeals processes where necessary; educating and advising individuals as to what the next steps should be once the claim process has been completed (whether covered or not) including Disaster Recovery Program applications.
Individuals with insurance questions remain in limbo. Any effort the Alberta Government makes in helping individuals through the insurance process and into the Disaster Recovery Program processes means less limbo for residents. It also means less overall cost on the Disaster Recovery Program; the sooner residents receive the assistance they need, the less cost they will need to incur to return to normal. The cost of employing an Event-Specific Ombudsman would easily be made up in the savings in reconstruction, should that reconstruction happen sooner rather than later when the destruction is even worse. It only makes sense to help this process get completed quickly.
Certainly changes to the Insurance industry is not a common sense solution. While competition within the industry is one reason why there are such varied issues, it is also a way of ensuring the best services are available to Albertans. An insurance company who treats its clients poorly and does not make appropriate coverage affordable will not likely be retained following this flood. What is needed, therefore, is a method of speeding the recovery process.
Flood victims need to get through this recovery process quickly. Their livelihood and Alberta's economy depends upon it. It is easily seen in the best interests of residents, Insurance Providers and the Province to go through these processes quickly and efficiently. The Alberta Government is in the perfect position to make this happen.
As a member of the Alberta Party in the Highwood constituency, I have written this letter to our Premier, the Honourable Alison Redford, asking her to work with the Insurance Industry by funding the appointment of an Event-Specific Ombudsman to effectively complete the insurance claim process for those affected by the flood. This will help the Alberta Government show to Albertans how much they truly value rebuilding Alberta after the flood.
Click here to see the original letter and document.
Attention: The Honourable Rick Fraser, Associate Minister of Recovery and Reconstruction for High River
Dear Associate Minister,
I write to offer you the opportunity to directly respond in an open format to questions and concerns expressed by victims of the most recent 2013 Alberta Floods. It is in Albertans' best interests to have open, clear and concise communication about the needs of Albertans, and the Government's efforts to fulfill them. I intend on being a partner with you in the development of this communication.
In particular, the questions and concerns I refer to are many of those expressed at the Flood Information evening in High River on July 18, 2013, a meeting that left the vast majority of those attending dissatisfied with a lack of details. While the five gentlemen at the forum-styled information session answered questions to the best of their ability, they simply were not equipped to provide the details that High River residents were expecting, and that many other Albertans will also be expecting at their own Flood Information nights.
This has led to a great deal of frustration, and the level of discourse between residents and officials is dwindling rapidly as a result. I am hoping that through this letter we can retain a high level of discourse, and yet provide the details Albertans need, want and expect.
I am writing in this open format as many were unable to attend the meeting for a variety of reasons, and should have access to the content of the discussions, just as much as they should have access to the detailed responses. I believe this to be a perfect opportunity for you to connect more directly with the concerns expressed by residents, and therefore improve the level of communication with your open responses.
The format of the questions attached provide synopses of those expressed at the July 18 Information Night, the answers provided that same night, and the remaining detail High River residents in particular are looking for. It is my hope, as a partner in communication, you respond in a similarly open fashion. Should you do so, I would be very happy to share as publicly as possible on your behalf the responses you provide.
It should be noted that none of the questions attached refer to how the flood was managed, although it was a significant theme brought forward by High River residents during that Information Night. That would be a topic that should be assigned to an independent inquiry following the Stabilization phase of the Provincial Recovery Framework publicized earlier today. All questions below apply directly to the current stage of that Framework, the Stabilization phase.
I know you share with me a desire to help Albertans move forward following this flood. I hope you share with me a desire for improved communications, and therefore can work with me as a partner in informing Albertans with the details they need. Albertans have shown great resiliency through working in concert with each other, and I hope that working as partners in communication, we can continue that collaboration to the benefit of all Albertans.
High River Resident
CC: The Honourable Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta
Ms. Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for HighwoodThe Honourable Doug Horner, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Finance
The Honourable Doug Griffiths, Minister of Municipal Affairs
The Honourable Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
His Worship Emile Blokland, Mayor of the Town of High River
Mr. William Munsey, President of the Alberta Party
Citizens of the Province of Alberta
Question: Regarding Flood Maps - It is obvious, particularly to High River residents, the current flood maps were out-of-date prior to the flood, are now even moreso as a result of changes to the terrain due to the flood, and in some cases inaccurate as residents expressed a history of flooding even though their property is not in any designated flood zone. Residents not only want to know their status regarding potential future Disaster Recovery Funding but also the general safety and flood-mitigative needs of their houses regardless of the occurence of disasters. We recognize that no map can necessarily be perfectly accurate, but the extent to which the inaccuracies exist is causing undue pressure on residents. What is the timeline for the updating of these maps?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, however the need for updating the maps was recognized.
Associate Minister, can you please provide a commitment to a timeline for the updating of these maps so Albertans can make informed decisions about the future of their homes?
Question: Regarding Insurance Complaints - One representative at the Flood Information Evening explained that many houses were affected by sewage as high as the second level of their houses due to the pressure the floodwaters placed on the sewage system. Some insurance companies refuse to cover damage at those levels of the houses stating “sewage that high is not possible.” This is simply one example of the many disputes residents are having with their insurance providers. If there is a dispute between a resident and their insurance company, what recourse does the resident have?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: Hire a lawyer.
Follow-Up Question: If the insurance company is found to be at fault, will the Disaster Recovery Program cover those legal costs?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: No.
Recommendation provided by a representative from the Insurance Bureau of Canada via a Tele-Town Hall hosted by Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for Highwood: For any grievance, complaint or even minor inconvenience, consumers are asked to call the Insurance Bureau of Canada at 1-800-377-6378.
Associate Minister, can you please commit to collaborating with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to ensure not only are insurance contracts appropriately adhered to, but that consumers are protected from insurance companies who downplay the damage caused by the effects of the flood?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Residents are ready to remediate their houses now. These residents, however, have no financial means to procure the professional services to do so. How long will residents need to wait before they have the various resources, including financial, to begin the remediation process?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as responses are likely on a case-by-case basis, and require the presence of assessors prior to allocation of funds.
Associate Minister, in order to begin the remediation process immediately, can you please make funds available to residents immediately, understanding that residents will be responsible for costs over and above what is allocated to them through the Disaster Recovery Program? If not, can you offer another solution that will expediate the process of getting funds to residents so they can remediate their homes sooner?
Question: Regarding Mortgages - Many residents are at the season where they need to renegotiate their mortgages. Some of these residents are uncertain as to the future of their homes, and therefore do not know the next step in the mortgage-renegotiation process. What course of action should these residents take?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as the panel recognized they did not have the skillset to answer the question.
Associate Minister, can you and the Alberta Government advocate on behalf of residents to the various financial institutions to temporarily stay all mortgage activity of those who are eligible for Disaster Recovery Funding so that residents can focus on making the best decisions for themselves and their property which those financial institutions have a stake in? If not, can you ensure that Disaster Recovery Funding will also cover the costs of not renegotiating mortgages in a timely fashion?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Program Loophole - For residents living in Flood Fringe or Overland Water Flow zones (according to current maps) as well as residents who were not in any designated Flood zone, yet were devastated by these most recent floods, many of them are no longer in the physical, mental and/or financial position to remain in the same premises. Some of these homes have been condemned, and therefore residents have no choice available to them but to relocate. According to the summary flowchart provided by the Disaster Recovery Program, residents in these zones are only provided assistance if they chose to remain. For residents who, due to condemned houses, health-related inability or significant financial malady are incapable of choosing to remain and have a need to relocate due to the devastating impacts of this flood, what Disaster Recovery Funding is available to them?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: None.
Associate Minister, please recognize that the criteria for Disaster Recovery Funding for individuals in Flood Fringe zones assumes residents have a choice. Can you please adjust the criteria to also provide assistance to those residents who, for their own individual circumstances, have no choice remaining, and must relocate?
Question: Regarding Floodproofing Standards - Many residents expected that with an announcement that the Government of Alberta would only provide future disaster funding in the event of another flood if homes were appropriately mitigated, that the announcement would be followed presently by a description of those floodproofing standards. They expected at the July 18, 2013 meeting to be told what those standards are. High River residents are very resourceful and well-experienced in flood recovery, so knowing those standards would have undoubtedly assisted residents in speeding up the recovery process. What are those floodproofing standards?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was that those standards are as of yet unidentified, but are likely to differ on a case-by-case basis.
Associate Minister, standards are benchmarks that all Albertans can be expected to adhere to, should not differ on a case-by-case basis, and through their very existence can help speed up the recovery process. Can you commit to providing at the very least guidelines, or preferably a document detailing floodproofing standards that can be applied across the province, and when can Albertans expect those documents to be made publicly available?
Click here to see the original letter and document.
You need to care about the Alberta Party's fortunes. Even if you don't agree with their policies, or think they're just another fringe party, the Alberta Party's viability is an indicator of the level of discourse in Alberta politics.
Let's be honest. The Alberta Party is small. It has no MLAs. If it is to be relevant, it is only because the level of discourse in Alberta politics has not improved.
Right now, the Alberta Party's fortunes are entirely dependent on the discourse in other circles of Alberta politics. As long as the Alberta Party does not direct its own conversation and depends on others, it will be the actions of others that shape its future.
So in 2013, these are the different actions that would need to take place to make the Alberta Party irrelevant in Alberta politics, and the people who will be the biggest indicators (with links to their Twitter feeds);
7) The PCs collaborate. With anyone. The reason why "41 years is enough" is because the PCs sense of self-entitlement is so deep, it has become the culture of Alberta politics. It's a major reason why the Alberta Party started up. If the PCs start making a history of collaboration with others, that self-entitlement culture will dissipate. The one to watch on this will be Fred Horne (@FredHorneMLA), because the Health portfolio is where the idea of collaboration is most needed, and least likely to occur.
6) The PCs finally produce a transparent, costed and complete budget with realistic projections. Borrowing for the future is not a bad idea when used sparingly, but plunging into debt because you used a pie-in-the-sky projection of revenue is unacceptable. When the PCs stop doing this, that is step 1. Watch Doug Horner (@DougHornerMLA) for this one.
5) The PCs take action on diversifying the Alberta economy. Adam Legge alluded to this need in his article about the need for the Alberta Advantage to evolve. It's something the Alberta Party has been saying for quite some time, and have even come up with some suggestions, such as the creative industries, or reinvesting in agriculture. Alison Redford has proven that she can't steer a ship, so watch the Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk (@LukaszukMLA) for this, if it ever happens.
4) The Wildrose Party manages somehow to shake the chains of the "Lake of Fire" history, and actually makes measurable and progressive changes to their social policy. I have doubts about the measurable changes to their policy. I have even more doubts that, even though they may want to, they will ever shake the unfortunate comments made by a few poorly vetted candidates. Danielle Smith will not be the one to watch for on this, because if there is one person in the Wildrose who fits that bill, it is her. It will be the most conservative and vocal on the Wildrose bench to be the indicator of a shift in social policy, and that person is Rob Anderson (@RAndersonMLA).
3) The Liberal Party sorts out its mess of an organization. It will do this by admonishing its upper brass for hanging one of its most respected Members of the Legislative Assembly out to dry (see letter written by Todd Van Vliet about Kent Hehr). It will clear up its marketing issues by actually choosing one of its brands, and ramming it down the throats of Albertans until they know what it means to be Liberal. Interestingly, the one to watch for on this will be Kent Hehr (@kenthehr). If he continues to fly the Liberal flag (whatever colour they end up choosing), it will either be because he really doesn't believe in collaboration amongst progressives, or because the Liberals have fixed their issues and welcomed him back into the fold.
2) The Alberta New Democrats lose the sarcasm and add a willingness to collaborate. In the last sitting of the Legislature, there were very few comments that I heard during Question Period from the Dippers that were anything different from what the Wildrose came up with, with an added turn-of-phrase or clever quip. It seems odd that with the amount they seem to agree with other opposition parties that they would flatly refuse to collaborate with anyone to make positive change happen. There is nothing wrong with their policies, they are well-formulated, but their approach to doing politics is fundamentally flawed. The guy to watch on this will be Deron Bilous (@DeronBilous), as he is the future of that party, and will be the one to set the standard of behaviour for those who follow him.
1) The Alberta Party doesn't do anything. At all. In order for it to be truly irrelevant, it must never do anything that will make itself visible to the rest of Alberta. It must never make any attempt at providing more definition to its policies. It must never try to listen to Albertans, and create innovative solutions to the problems they hear. Unfortunately, there isn't really any truly visible individual on this, as there is a group of people who will be the indicators on this. The current board, led by William Munsey as President (@AP_President), will be the identifiers here.
If you see four of these things happen, I would suggest that the Alberta Party would no longer be relevant, and seeing as only one of them is within their own control, their fortunes are very much tied to others.
But in all honesty, I don't see the PCs collaborating, costing out their budget, nor diversifying the economy. I don't see the Wildrose shaking the chains of their past candidates (although I do see them trying). I don't see LiberAlberta sorting out their mess. I also don't see the New Democrats changing their approach.
I have a very big concern, as an Alberta Party Member, about whether or not my party will do anything. They are updating their constitution on February 23, and that will be a big indication to me of the party's directions. I do, of course, have high hopes.
However, 2013 will be the true litmus test for the Alberta Party, and Alberta politics on the whole. Let's hope it starts representing all Albertans, and soon!