Flood aftermath - some thoughts on cleanup, the army, and compensation.
Yesterday in this space, I looked at the politics of disasters – the good and the bad of how politicians perform in the midst of a crisis, with a focus of course on the recent flooding. Today, Part 2 – the clean up and compensation.
Once the water started receding, the massive job of assessing damage and clean up started. And as you know, it was at this point that the army was called in. Must say it is a little disappointing that all the military response amounts to, is a few engineers whose participation is only to evaluate damage to culverts and the like. No heavy lifting.
Maybe for reasons unbeknownst to me there are good reasons for it, but wouldn’t it have been nice to see a more robust military response. They have this huge resource of young, fit soldiers, the very ones Progressive Conservative MLA Brtian MacDonald wanted to see placing sandbags, who could be used to now haul them away. I get it that they don’t want to take work from contractors who do this kind of thing for a living, but what about all those seniors out there who have a huge mess on their hands with flooded residences or cottages or whatever, who don’t have the physical ability for the clean up or the financial resources to hire it out. Now there’s a worthwhile and welcome service soldiers could provide, if the powers that we were of the mind to give the word.
With the clean up comes the question of compensation. It is more straightforward for residential properties as no question there is coverage, and after a threshold the funding comes mainly from the federal government. With seasonal properties, there is no such federal program.
No one can argue that people’s permanent homes and businesses have to be a priority. But as for cottages, Premier Gallant says they will do something, but for a province that is pretty much broke it’s hard to imagine they are in a position to do much. Although the thoughts of forgiving property taxes or offering low interest loans for repair and rebuilding are worth considering.
A game changer is if the federal government, which pays by far the lion’s share of compensation, changes its criteria to include seasonal properties. On this, something one of my co-panelists of our political observer's panel on CBC Shift, Michael Camp said on the show last Friday, resonated with me. His fear was that bureaucrats in Ottawa who may make a decision on that might not understand who cottage owners in New Brunswick are. He made the valid point that to them, the idea of cottage owners is probably of the millionaires who summer in their waterfront properties in the Muskokas. He made the point that that reality is entirely different than the cottage culture here, which is, as often as not, modest hunting camps and cottages handed down through the generations, owned by average folks, not the well-heeled. Not a bit comparable to the cottage culture in Ontario, but his fear is that the people who may make these decisions for the federal government may not understand that.
That notwithstanding, the decision facing Gallant and his cabinet on this isn’t an easy one. Should he compensate, even if the money has to be borrowed, to help those who lost or have serious damage to their seasonal properties? And if so, what conditions should be attached? Should they have to rebuild in, or move to, less vulnerable locations?
Many of these people made physical adjustments to their properties after the 1973 flood, to clear the high water mark from those record levels, so they would never have to deal with flooding again. They took the precautions, thinking they would now be high and dry forever. No one saw this coming.
But we have to wonder - with the combination of climate change and clear-cutting making flooding worse, is this the new normal? Do we even have any idea where the flood plain is anymore?
Like many, I’d like to see these folks helped. It would be the right thing to do, and you can argue that there is a cottage economy that is an important part of the mix. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are a financially strapped province and as such our options are limited.
It may be a good time for a non-partisan approach, with input from all parties. Who knows what consensus might result, but with the election looming, that’s probably not going to happen.
Somewhat related, I can’t help thinking of the climate change deniers who argue it is too expensive to put in place measures to cut back on carbon, or those who say it is too expensive to harvest forests in environmentally responsible ways rather than clear-cutting. Yeah, right (inject sarcastic tone here)
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