While it will still be some time before B.C. officials can provide preliminary estimates as to how much it will cost to repair the damage from this week’s flooding, it could be the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.
Highway bridges need to be replaced, sections of rail lines relaid, and entire communities need to be rebuilt, meaning the cost of the flooding is expected to be unprecedented in B.C.’s history.
“There is a significant economic impact of this that grows bigger every day these routes are out,” Kent Fellows, assistant professor of economics and the associate program director of The Canadian Northern Corridor Program at The University of Calgary School of Public Policy, told Global News.
Right now, Canada’s most expensive natural disaster was in Fort McMurray where wildfires resulted in $3.7 billion worth of insurance claims. However, the final cost including repairs and rebuilding was almost $9 billion.
Flooding in southern Alberta saw $1.7 billion in insurance claims, but the true cost was nearly double that.
In 1998, ice storms in Quebec and Ontario cost the insurance industry $1.3 billion.
“Between 1983 and 2008, the insurance industry was paying out, on average, about $422,000,000 of severe weather damage across the country,” Rob de Pruis, director, consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada said.
He added in the last decade, that number has risen to $2.1 billion, on average across the country. Last year, the country experienced about $2.4 billion in damage related to severe weather events.
“Before this severe weather event in B.C., we still experienced over $1.3 billion in claims from severe weather, just this year so far,” de Pruis added.
British Columbians now have access to overland residential flood coverage and de Pruis said about half of the province’s residents have added this optional coverage to their policies.
However, about five per cent of homeowners would not qualify for coverage due to being in “high-risk flood areas.”
The loss from flooding in the province also goes well beyond critical infrastructure.
The Port of Vancouver is essentially cut off from the rest of the country and an estimated $250 million to $500 million worth of goods travels through the port every day.
Experts say those costs are not captured in traditional disaster models.
“The economy is there to serve the needs of the people, that’s what we’re talking about and this will hit both on the export side and on the import side and on the interprovincial trade,” Fellows said.
“It’s also Canada’s gateway to the Pacific so it also affects our Pacific partners. It also affects some of our trade with the United States because we do a lot of that trade down the U.S. western seaboard.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan said the province has the fiscal capacity to build back what was lost.
But Fellows said a key development here will be building infrastructure with more resiliency.
“Canada, in the past 40 to 50 years, we have not done a lot, or any, long-term planning on our interregional and international infrastructure, things have just happened as we need them,” he said. “Pre-1970, this country thought a lot about long-term planning over decades or over half-centuries, centuries.
“So I think both at the province’s and the federal level should have a really serious thought about how to make sure our infrastructure is resilient to climate change, how do we plan for the expansion of Canadian economy, hoping that we want it to expand, we want to improve quality of life, and how do we think seriously about redundancies.”
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Friday while there is no estimate on the overall cost of rebuilding the province, it is going to be “very significant.
“And they need to be built to a higher standard,” he added.
— with files from Aaron McArthur