Disastrous and record-setting flooding occurred across the province of Ontario between April and July 2019, with 23 municipalities declaring states of emergencies. In July 2019, the government appointed Doug McNeil, an experienced public servant from Manitoba, as Special Advisor on Flooding , with a mandate to consider the flood management and land use systems in Ontario. His report was submitted to the government on October 31 and made public on November 28 – the press release is here. The 157-page Report of an Independent review of the 2019 flood events in Ontario describes in detail the complex administrative and regulatory system which governs the province’s flood management , and concludes that “the government and its partners were effective at reducing and mitigating flood risks…. the flooding was caused by a combination of weather conditions and found no human error or negligence in the operation of “water control structures” (translation: dams).
Reaction to the report includes “Doug Ford government ducks fiscal responsibility for severe flooding” in the National Observer (November 28) – which points out: “The first Ford budget had slashed by 50 per cent the flood management funds given to conservation authorities by his ministry to protect Ontario’s watersheds and canceled tree-planting efforts that limit flood damage.” A Toronto Globe and Mail article focuses on the home-owners perspective in their overview “Ontario homes at risk of flooding should be made public: report”. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority reacted positively– their press release notes that many of their recommendations and comments about urban flooding were incorporated in the Special Advisor’s recommendations. It is notable that the Chair of the TRCA was appointed on the same day as a member of Ontario’s new Advisory Panel on Climate Change.
The Special Advisor makes sixty-six recommendations for improved action and coordination by the provincial ministries and conservation authorities, and calls for sustained funding for budgets related to flood management . Recommendations include:
- #3: “That the following be incorporated into the Provincial Policy Statement: • The reference to “impacts of a changing climate” throughout the Provincial Policy Statement helps to bring it to everyone’s attention and should be included in the Preamble as well.”
- #15: That the Province consider adopting legislation that will require flood risk properties to be identified in some way that is publicly accessible, at the very least on the property title, to ensure that prospective buyers are aware.
- #16 That municipalities consider utilizing local improvement charges to help finance and install (or upgrade) shoreline protection works, and if necessary, that the Province provide municipalities with enhanced authority to do so.
- #52: That the Province continue the dialogue with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the federal government on the steps needed to make flood insurance more available to more Ontarians.
- #66: That the Province maintain, at a minimum, the current level of funding in departmental budgets and programs related to everything flood (i.e. existing approval processes and associated policies and technical requirements, floodplain mapping, maintenance of flood infrastructure, satellite imagery, etc.).