Quebec's flood action plan falls short on prevention, says flood victim

The City of Gatineau says it welcomes the Quebec government's new flood response action plan, but some flood victims worry the plan doesn't go far enough.

More than 4,000 Quebecers forced from their homes by floods last spring

Living just steps away from the Gatineau River, Thomas Little worries the City of Gatineau won't be ready for the next big flood. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

The City of Gatineau says it welcomes the Quebec government's new flood response action plan, but some flood victims worry the plan doesn't go far enough.

Quebec's Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux unveiled the plan Thursday morning in Quebec City, responding to criticisms his government was too slow to assist and compensate the thousands of people affected by last spring's floods, which devastated cities and towns across western Quebec.

The plan's overarching goal is to help municipalities respond more effectively to future floods. 

The province is ordering all municipalities to have an emergency preparedness plan in place, as only one-third of Quebec municipalities currently have one.

It also aims to make it easier for municipalities and the provincial government to share residents' personal information in the event of a natural disaster — including, for example, evacuees' files.

Neighbouring municipalities would be able to share this information between themselves, so they can better respond during a crisis.

Jean-François Perrault (left) and Julie Thériault push a canoe with a neighbour's belongings in a flooded area of Gatineau, Que. during last May's floods. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The province also committed to simplifying its financial assistance program, so it can compensate flood victims more quickly. Some people displaced by last year's floods still haven't been able to return home.

"The approach will be more personalized, more humane, more centered on the flood victim," Coiteux told reporters in French.

'A bureaucratic hell'

Gatineau was among the municipalities hardest hit last May, when more than 500 homes were flooded and nearly 1,000 people received care from the Red Cross.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said the province's plan responds to several of his city's concerns, but cautioned there was still work to do.

Gatineau firefighters help resident Richard Fairweather from a boat last May. Fairweather left his home on Hurturbise Boulevard after water breached the sandbags surrounding it. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The province has signalled that municipalities that are capable and willing to disburse flood assistance payments directly will be allowed to do so.

Pedneaud-Jobin welcomed that decision, but said it's imperative those measures be in place before the next flood season. Otherwise, he said, future flood victims will face the same old program and its months of bureaucratic delays.

"Citizens were put in situations where they had to deal with a bureaucratic hell, while going through very difficult personal situations," Pedneaud-Jobin said. "So that has to be done before this summer."

'Spring is coming'

For flood victims like Thomas Little, the government's plan still falls flat when it comes to helping residents prepare for the next big flood.

"We have an action plan, but what about a preventive plan?" Little said, standing just steps from the water's edge.

Little's home sits just metres away from the Gatineau River. Last May, the river breached the sandbag wall Little spent weeks building, flooding his basement and forcing him from his home for a month.

Thomas Little holds up his bruised hands last May after spending days piling sandbags around his property. The water eventually breached the wall, flooding his basement. (CBC)

Little says he's glad the province plans to make it easier for flood victims to get the help they need, but he worries the city still won't be ready the next time the river bursts its banks.

"Everybody around here is not concentrating on what happened [last year] — what about tomorrow? What about a month from now, when that water right now is up 17 feet like it was?"

While he and neighbours are each making plans to protect their homes, Little says he would like the city to step in and co-ordinate prevention efforts — before it's too late.

"I don't know what I'd do if it does flood, if it does hit my house again," he said.

"We have nothing, and spring is coming."