Storm Fiona: Status quo on insurance amid disasters is not working, LeBlanc says

The “catastrophic” damage caused by Storm Fiona demonstrates the status quo on flood and disaster insurance is not viable for a future that will be marked by increasingly extreme weather and climate change, says Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, LeBlanc faced questions about the government’s longstanding promise to set up a national flood insurance program days after the storm ripped through Atlantic Canada over the weekend, causing devastating damage to communities across the region.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is travelling into some of the battered regions to meet with residents of those communities: specifically, Stanley Bridge, P.E.I, and Glace Bay and Sydney on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.

“The sort of status quo that might have existed for the last 20 years doesn’t feel like the right posture for the next number of years, so we’re prepared to figure out the best way to reassure Canadians that they’re not going to be alone when they suffer what are catastrophic losses,” LeBlanc said.

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“This is devastating for communities and those families … the governments, plural, need to be there to support these people but we need to find a more ongoing way to do that.”

A major report from the federal government last month warned that the cost of providing flood insurance “will grow faster than inflation and gross domestic product in the future.”

The growth rate of flood risks and the costs of providing flood insurance for private companies will soon become “unsustainable,” that report added, and said that “rapid de-risking is critical.”

Flood and storm surge damage are not covered under most standard insurance plans in Canada, and adding them to existing plans can be prohibitively expensive for individuals who are at the highest  risk: for example, those in areas that have become flood plains due to climate change.

Click to play video: 'Consumer Matters: flood insurance 101'
Consumer Matters: flood insurance 101

That report is expected to guide work already underway on creating a national flood insurance program, which was part of the mandate letter tasks laid out for Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

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Flooding is causing approximately $2.9 billion in damage to homes and infrastructure each year, and homeowners typically end up bearing about 75 per cent of uninsured loss each year, the government has said. LeBlanc noted that with the rising costs, insurance providers will become increasingly unwilling to provide flood insurance, and leaving Canadians on their own is not an option.

“The insurance industry is going to be less and less willing, or at a rate of premium people won’t be able to afford, to cover these losses. So there is a role for public authorities,” he said, stressing that role will require both federal and provincial governments to contribute.

“These kinds of events, sadly, are going to become more frequent and more destructive.”

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