1672670798 25 years after the ice storm Quebec is still demanding

25 years after the ice storm, Quebec is still demanding $484 million from Ottawa

Under the liberal government of Jean Charest, Quebec seemed to have given up all hope of getting that money back. However, a document we consulted signed by the Canadian Relations Secretariat in 2022 indicates that the financial claim on the federal government is still relevant.

The file on financial claims related to the ice storm cannot be considered closed, the Executive Council, Prime Minister François Legault’s ministry, confirmed minutes after its December 20 meeting with Justin Trudeau.

Quebec claims a total of $484 million:

  • $189 million for emergency response to the disaster;
  • $232 million for power grid restoration;
  • $63 million for spending incurred by the Department of Health and Human Services during the crisis.

This Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program aims to rebuild damaged homes, keep small businesses or farms afloat, and repair, rebuild, and restore essential utilities and community services to reach their pre-disaster capacities .

Lucien Bouchard and André Caillé's daily press conference during the ice storm.

A daily press conference by Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard and Hydro-Quebec CEO André Caillé during the January 1998 ice storm.

Photo: Radio Canada

The federal government has consistently denied the province’s claims for compensation because Hydro-Québec’s expenditures are ineligible for the DFAA and the $63 million in health and welfare expenditures are unsupported by supporting documents.

But Quebec disagrees. The government considers it right to receive these compensations under the federal program.

“Quebec seeks only to meet its demands and be treated fairly in all cases of financial claims against the federal government. »

– A quote from an email from the Executive Board’s department to Radio-Canada, December 20

François Legault and Justin Trudeau walk down a hallway decorated with wood paneling.

François Legault and Justin Trudeau at a meeting in Montreal on December 20.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson

They must respect the parameters of the program’s terms and conditions, responds Public Safety Canada spokeswoman Kirsti MacKenzie. She notes that only Crown companies that provide water and wastewater services are covered by the DFAA.

“State-owned companies […] typically have sufficient funds and/or access to comprehensive insurance coverage to cover the cost of the damage and continue operations. »

– A quote from Kirsti MacKenzie, spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada

In 2011, 13 years after the ice storm, the federal government had already paid Quebec $525 million, but the $484 million still required was not included in that total.

One of the costliest disasters in Canadian history

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the disaster resulted in $1.6 billion in losses to the Canadian economy. In total, Hydro-Québec had to invest 2 billion to strengthen its electricity transmission network.

From January 5 to 10, 1998, 100 mm of freezing rain fell on southwestern Quebec. Pylons believed to be indestructible had collapsed. About 3,000 kilometers of power lines from Hydro-Quebec had collapsed, plunging half the province into darkness.

During the 1998 ice storm, a tree fell on a car.

By January 1998, tens of thousands of trees had fallen and their branches crashed into cars and rooftops.

Photo: The Canadian Press/PC/Ryan Remiorz

Power cables, crushed by the ice, dangled a few feet off the ground, blocking the passage of emergency vehicles. Around 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Around 15,000 soldiers were deployed in the various disaster areas.

Quebec reiterates that Stephen Harper’s federal government has shown openness to agreeing with the province on compensation, but Ottawa eventually backed down on the damage suffered by Hydro-Quebec.

$63 million spent by Quebec with no receipts

The federal government also refuses to honor financial claims totaling $63 million for Department of Health and Human Services expenditures on the pretext that they are not accompanied by original bills.

Quebec confirms that it has no direct supporting documents, but ensures that the amounts are in the government’s official accounting system and that the financial controller has verified the reliability of the data.

Hydro-Quebec received refunds from the province until 2019

Without waiting for Ottawa to confirm compensation, the Quebec government had committed to pay Hydro-Quebec the equivalent of the net value of the equipment destroyed at the time of the disaster (US$235 million) and related expenses of up to US$200 million -Dollars to reimburse emergency measures ($199 million), all in 1998 dollars.

State support in 1998 totaled $434 million, state body spokeswoman Caroline Des Rosiers wrote in response to questions from Radio-Canada. Related reimbursements from the Quebec government to Hydro-Québec ended in 2019.

In today’s dollars, Quebec’s claim against Ottawa would be approximately $800 million, but the province did not require inflation to be accounted for.