Federal bill for Prairie flooding an outsized expense, says budget watchdog

Report points to provincial shortcomings as possible reasons for large annual expenditures

Prairie flood events, like this one in the Red River Valley, are the single biggest annual expense under a federal disaster financial assistance program.

Prairie flooding is costing the federal government too much under a disaster financial assistance program, says the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The issue is the single biggest expenditure under the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements plan, something the budget watchdog blamed on a lack of co-ordination and co-operation.

In a report to Parliament, the PBO said provincial co-operation was lagging, while the real work of mitigating floods and managing ongoing flood issues was downloaded to municipalities. The report examined the decade between 2005 and 2014.

“Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have accounted for 82 per cent of all DFAA weather event costs, almost all of which are a result of flooding, despite accounting for only 18 per cent of Canada’s population,” said Jean-Denis Frechette, the parliamentary budget officer.

In the report the PBO, which reviews federal spending, said on average flood relief costs the federal treasury $673 million annually and represents 75 per cent of DFAA’s weather-related expenditures. Ottawa provides the funds to provincial governments to distribute.

The cost is high because of a lack of private homeowner flood insurance in Canada and the absence of incentives for flood damage mitigation measures, Frechette added.

As well, Prairie governments have made floodplain management the responsibility of municipalities, he said, while also noting there is no interprovincial co-ordination of flood management.

“This currently does not exist in Canada even though it has been shown to be effective at reducing damages in other countries,” Frechette said. “This is particularly important in the Prairie provinces, where rivers such as the Saskatchewan and its tributaries span all three provinces.”

Frechette said the losses don’t include direct farm crop and livestock losses, which are covered under the Agri-Disaster program. Some of the total could include loss claims filed by producers, but it was impossible to separate out that information from the DFAA database.

Nationally during the next five years, the federal government can expect to pay an average of $229 million annually due to hurricanes and storms and $673 million for floods.

Frechette said provincial policies, or the lack of them in some cases, was a contributing factor.

“Saskatchewan has unlicensed drainage of wetlands that increases peak flows during floods and Alberta appears to have inaccurate flood maps,” the report said.

About the author



Stories from our other publications