John Ivison: Liberals so focused on carbon taxes, they missed the flood coming in the back door – National Post

Posted: November 27, 2021 at 5:09 am

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For a Liberal government that has made climate change one of its top priorities, its policies on disaster mitigation have been nothing short of negligent

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Justin Trudeau saw for himself the impact of the atmospheric river that broke rainfall records in British Columbia, leaving dikes breached, homes submerged, highways washed out and livestock drowned.

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Another pulse of storms is forecast for this weekend. Well see what God has in store, one resident told Global TV, stoically.

But as distressing as the flooding has been, the lack of preparation for extreme weather in the province has been just as shocking.

Ed Fast, the MP for Abbotsford, one of the worst affected cities, said all levels of government have been aware for years about the potential for flooding but didnt act. We should have seen it coming but nothing substantive was ever done about it, he said.

As a minister in the Harper government, Fast bears his share of the blame for that inertia.

But the Liberals have been in power for the past six years and for a government that has made climate change one of its top priorities, its policies on disaster mitigation have been nothing short of negligent.

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This weeks throne speech committed the Liberals to develop Canadas first ever National Adaptation Strategy, prompting a question that begs an answer: Why wasnt such a strategy commissioned after the Fort McMurray fire in 2016 or the spring flooding in Ontario and Quebec in 2017?

What is apparent is that the Liberal government has been almost entirely focused on addressing the politically virtuous battle of reducing emissions, at the expense of the less sexy alleviation of climate changes ramifications.

Resilience has been a victim of ideology. The country has been fractured by debates about carbon pricing, while the far less contentious issue of preparing for floods and fires has been neglected.

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Take the update to the governments climate plan in December 2020, which allocated $2.6 billion over seven years to make homes more energy efficient but ignored the issue of flood proofing.

There was a strong push by the Insurance Bureau of Canada to have some of the money directed toward a flood resilience subsidy for sump pumps, window wells and so on which would, in turn, have yielded insurance discounts for homeowners.

However, then Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson did not want to dilute emissions-reduction efforts.

The Insurance Bureau dismissed the resulting strategy as half a plan, arguing it did little to protect Canadians from floods, fires, windstorms and hail.

With 2021 set to be the most expensive year on record for insured damage (surpassing 2016s $5.2 billion), it is in the industrys interests to call on Ottawa to do more. But that doesnt mean its wrong.

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When then Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna requested money for a disaster mitigation fund, she was allocated $1.4 billion over 12 years a fraction of what she asked for. (The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates the country should be spending $5.3 billion a year on adaptive infrastructure.)

Belatedly, the government has shifted course.

A damning new report by the environment commissioner, Jerry DeMarco, said that Canada has been the worst performer in the G7 since the Paris Agreement when it comes to emissions reduction. But he also condemned the governments record on climate resilience, pointing out that 10 per cent of households are at risk of flooding. He said the Liberals should centralize the responsibility for adaptation and other functions from the Environment Department to the Privy Council Office and Finance Canada. It appears that change will now take place, along with the adoption of other Liberal campaign commitments such as funding for the retrofitting of homes to protect against extreme weather, the development of flood maps, and the creation of a national flood insurance program for homeowners at high risk. A taskforce on flood insurance was struck in 2020 by then Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, and is set to report back next May.

A more serious approach to adaptation is long overdue.

When it comes to global emissions, Canada should live up to its international commitments but it cannot control the amount of greenhouse gases being discharged by China and others.

However, it can do more to help Canadians protect themselves from the depredations of extreme climate.

It is too bad that it has taken Old Testament-style tumults of rain to expunge the misplaced belief that adaptation is a distraction from achieving net-zero emissions.

Email: jivison@postmedia.com | Twitter: IvisonJ

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John Ivison: Liberals so focused on carbon taxes, they missed the flood coming in the back door - National Post

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