Hamilton needs national flood insurance, but will it ever get it?

In this week’s budget, Ottawa pledged to investigate a national flood insurance for homeowners. And local politicians say that will be good for Hamiltonians...if it ever happens.
Hamilton would benefit from national flood insurance. But local decision makers doubt it will come any time soon. (Courtesy Erin Court)

In this week’s budget, the federal government pledged to investigate national flood insurance for homeowners. And local politicians say that will be good for Hamiltonians…if it ever happens.

In some areas of Hamilton, homeowners have been plagued by flooding to the point where they can no longer get insured. Those homeowners would benefit from national flood insurance, said Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek. But he doubts we'll ever see it.

“In my lifetime? It’s not likely,” Clark said.

The national program was “a vague line” in Tuesday’s budget, said Clark, whose ward experienced widespread flooding last year. He fears it was pandering ahead of a 2015 federal election.

“I would have been much more comfortable if there was a definitive plan."

Compassionate grant payments for flooded homes: a sample

July 26, 2005: 601 grants, total $403,854

May 25, 2007: 45 grants, $30,199.19

Aug. 1, 2008: 309 grants, $110,784

July 26, 2009: 4,125 grants, $3,079,128

Sept. 28, 2010: 111 grants, $87,191.19

July 22, 2012: 218 grants, $164,000

Total from 2005 to 2012: 7,492 grants, $5,156,060

Such a plan would help Hamilton, which has had flooding so severe that the city has offered "compassionate grants" to homeowners 17 times since 2005. That equals 7,492 grants to residents, costing $5,156,060 on the local tax bill.

Hamilton gets so much flooding, in fact, that the Insurance Bureau of Canada launched a new flood prediction tool here in November.

Ottawa unveiled its 2014 budget on Tuesday, with highlights including $1.5 billion to support research and development and a $2.9 billion deficit this year. Canada is the only G8 country without residential flood insurance coverage, the government said. It pledged to lok at a "national approach to residential flood insurance."

Hamilton homeowners struggle with insurance companies, said Coun. Chad Collins. They are often denied coverage after suffering one flood.

“Company after company will say that if you live in a certain area, or in this case, a certain city that has experienced floods, they’re not going to cover you.”

The fact that it was mentioned, at least, is a good sign, said Coun. Sam Merulla.

“It lends credence to optimism.”

Here are some other Hamilton-specific budget topics:

Cleaning up contaminated airport lands

The city is still waiting for the federal government to commit money to clean up lands contaminated with PFOS around the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. The federal government could have included that in the budget, but it didn’t, said NDP MP Chris Charlton, who represents Hamilton Mountain.

Mayor Bob Bratina wasn’t surprised though. “That’s a work in progress” with federal staff, and “it wouldn’t be budget related,” he said. But “it is an active file.”

Hamilton's dire infrastructure needs

Hamilton is falling behind on its infrastructure to the tune of $195 million per year. The feds have promised a $14-billion infrastructure program, but Tuesday’s budget skipped over how cities could apply or qualify for the money. That news will likely come out on Thursday, Charlton said.

“They’ve talked about the Building Canada fund, but as of yesterday, there are no details,” Charlton told CBC Hamilton. “We don’t know what it’s for. We don’t know how to apply.”

Hamilton needs that information now, Charlton said. Construction season is coming. 

“If the government continues to stall, there will be no time for shovels in the ground.”


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