Ottawa inches toward flood insurance program

·2 min read

Ottawa is taking the first steps toward creating a national flood insurance program for high-risk residential properties.

The federal government this week announced the creation of an interdisciplinary task force on flood insurance and relocation that will begin work in January, considering what form a national low-cost insurance program would take. It will be comprised of representatives from all three levels of government, as well as members from the insurance industry. The task force will work alongside a steering committee that will consider the needs of Indigenous communities and how the needs of people living on reserves might differ.

“Flooding in Canada has devastating effects for thousands of Canadians each year. Our government is making investments to reduce the impact of climate-related disasters to foster a more resilient Canada,” Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said.

Overland flood insurance is excluded by most home insurance plans in Canada, and when it is offered, it is often expensive. Increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as flooding, comes along with a changing climate. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised a national flood insurance program as part of the Liberals’ climate strategy in the 2019 election campaign.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada — an industry association representing Canada’s private home, auto and business insurers — has been calling for years on the federal government to create a national flood program.

“More Canadians are exposed to flooding than to any other climate-related peril. Through this task force, insurers will work with governments across the country to ensure every Canadian has access to affordable flood insurance,” said Don Forgeron, IBC president and chief executive officer.

The insurance industry is feeling the weight of mounting claims. In 2018, “insured catastrophic losses” were pegged at $2 billion — 60 per cent higher than in 2017.

“But unlike the 1998 Quebec ice storm, the 2013 Calgary floods or the 2016 Fort McMurray, Alta. wildfire, no single event in 2018 caused the high amount paid out for losses. Instead, Canadians and their insurers experienced significant losses from a host of smaller severe weather events from coast to coast to coast,” the 2019 industry report reads.

The IBC estimates 10 per cent of Canada’s 10.9 million homes are at high risk for flooding. The association has also called on provincial and municipal governments to immediately amend bylaws and land-use planning that allows for people to construct new buildings on flood plains. The task force will report its findings in spring 2022.

Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press