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The federal government is cutting Alberta an initial cheque for about $300 million to help pay for firefighting costs and support to evacuees following the destructive wildfire in Fort McMurray.
Veterans Affairs Minister and Alberta MP Kent Hehr said the advance payment from the federal−provincial disaster assistance agreement will be in Alberta’s hands by early July.
"This is the quickest turnaround ever getting money out the door to support the rebuild of a community that has been affected in the way that Fort McMurray has," Hehr said Friday after a meeting of federal and provincial ministers in Edmonton.
The money is just a first instalment, said Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larrivee.
"At this point, in terms of what is eligible, we expect (the total) will be in the range of $615 million. There likely will be some unexpected expenses along the way," she said.
"I want to thank the federal government for their tremendously swift response and support and for their commitment today to expedite the advance payment."
Hehr said the payment is based on a preliminary audit of damage caused by the fire. Alberta has already said that the cost of fighting the blaze and fixing the damage will run into the billions of dollars.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said many of Alberta’s costs will be 90 per cent covered by Ottawa. He added some expenses — such as the environmental cleanup of contaminated ash and debris — are still being tallied and the total assistance under the program could go higher.
"It will take some time to calculate the damages caused and then, under the formula, the way in which the costs are apportioned," he said. "Whatever is required to be paid under the formula will in fact be paid."
Nor will the assistance program be the province’s only source of federal funds, Goodale said.
"There are other government initiatives, in terms of what Services Canada will do, what the employment department will do, what infrastructure can do and so forth, all in addition. There will be a whole range of other government departments federally and provincially involved in this process to bring the maximum relief effort possible."
The federal government is also providing $90 million to match relief donations made to the Red Cross in May. Alberta is spending $30 million to match donations made in the province.
The two governments are now working together with the Red Cross to figure out the best use for those matched funds.
The fire was burning away from Fort McMurray when high winds on May 3 caused it to make an abrupt about−face and race towards the city. More than 80,000 people had to leave their homes as the flames cut through several neighbourhoods. About one−tenth of the city’s buildings were destroyed.
Residents started returning earlier this month. Many found their homes still standing, but others were faced with a wasteland of ash and toxic debris.