OTTAWA — Major Canadian cities have done a mediocre job of preparing for floods, a new study concludes.
The study, conducted by University of Waterloo researchers and commissioned by The Co-operators insurance company, rated the efforts of 15 cities to reduce the risk of damage from flooding caused by extreme rainfall.
Ottawa emerged as the best prepared, with a score of A-minus, followed closely by Winnipeg with a B-plus.
Calgary and St. John’s scored a B; Toronto and Montreal a B-minus.
Halifax emerged as the least prepared, with a score of D, but a host of others rated only middling marks.
Mississauga, Ont., scored a C-plus, Edmonton, Fredericton and Whitehorse a C and Vancouver, Quebec City, Regina, and Charlottetown a C-minus.
“Flood preparedness for Canadian cities is, on average, mediocre,” said Blair Feltmate, Intact chair of the climate adaptation project at the University of Waterloo and author of the study.
Each city was assessed on 16 different factors that could reduce the risk of severe flood damage.
The cities scored relatively well on some factors, such as requiring the installation of backwater valves for new home construction to prevent water backing up basement drains, updating flood plain maps and restricting construction in flood-prone areas.
But Feltmate was surprised at how little planning cities have done to ensure access to essential goods and services — food, electricity, telecommunications, transportation, financial services — during a flooding crisis. Municipal officials tended to argue that it wasn’t their responsibility.
Rather, they maintained it’s up to utility companies to supply power, grocery store chains to supply food, telecommunications companies to supply phone service, banks to keep automated banking machines working and provincial governments to keep highways open.
“That kind of surprised me, those types of responses. Because quite frankly, when the floods hit and the people are suffering, they’re going turn to the mayor of the city and say, ‘What are you doing, why don’t you have these things up and running?'” Feltmate said in an interview.
“They’re not going to say, ‘Well, oh, we understand that’s not your responsibility.’ It effectively becomes their responsibility quite quickly.”
Feltmate is hoping the study will prompt mayors and councillors to “have fairly frank conversations” about how they can better prepare their cities for flooding, the most common type of natural disaster in Canada.
Even the City of Ottawa, the best prepared, can do better. As for the least prepared, Feltmate said: “I would say for Halifax, quite bluntly, they need to really sit down and have a little bit of soul searching.”