Ineligible for disaster relief, flooded Ontario cottage owners feeling left out

Many cottage owners whose properties have been damaged by the flooding in eastern Ontario are angry they don't qualify for provincial disaster relief funding.

Only primary residences eligible under provincial program, not cottages

Gilles Leroux has owned this three-bedroom cottage on the Ottawa River, seen on May 8, 2017, for the past 17 years. He's ineligible for disaster relief because the cottage is not his primary residence. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Some cottage owners whose properties have been damaged by the flooding in eastern Ontario are angry they don't qualify for provincial disaster relief funding. 

According to City of Ottawa officials, 310 properties have been flooded in the municipality, including cottages in Constance Bay and Dunrobin in the city's rural west end.

Cottages have also been flooded east of the city in and around Clarence-Rockland, Ont.

Gilles Leroux has owned a three-bedroom cottage on the Ottawa River at Carson Point for 17 years, between the towns of Clarence Creek and Wendover — approximately 50 kilometres east of downtown Ottawa.

Leroux said he'd thought the river had peaked in late April when the water rose and came within a metre of his front door. 

But late last week, he watched helplessly as water rushed into the cottage.

'We were in battle mode'

"It was sad to see water coming up and, until it hit the floor, we thought it would go down," said Leroux.

GIlles Leroux, left, poses with his son and grandson in drier times. Leroux is angry that the province won't offer any compensation after flooding seriously damaged his cottage near Clarence-Rockland, Ont. (Submitted by Gilles Leroux)

"We were in battle mode, but then it was too late. You feel so powerless, but you have to look forward, not backward."

With help, Leroux was able to stack most of the the furniture up and away from the water. But his garage, a separate building, is almost totally submerged. 

Leroux said since the property is on the river, he can't get flood insurance. So he'll have to incur the full cost of replacing the walls and floors, which he estimates will set him back about $25,000. 

Cottagers need help too

In order to qualify for funds under Ontario's Disaster Recovery Assistance Program, the damaged property must be a primary residence and not a secondary one like a cottage. 

Those who do qualify under the program "are eligible for funds for emergency living expenses and partial financial assistance to return essential property to its basic function," to a maximum of $250,000.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne passes the flooded lawn of a home after speaking to residents affected by flooding in the neighbourhood of Cumberland in Ottawa on Monday, May 8, 2017. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Leroux doesn't quarrel with home owners getting the lion's share of aid — but he said he wants help as well.

"I knew we wouldn't be getting the same relief as primary residents, and that's understandable," said Leroux. "But at least get a certain amount to help us rebuild. Because I pay taxes in Ontario all my life, and it doesn't count. We're just left out."

During a tour of the flooded areas in Cumberland and Clarence-Rockland on Monday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told affected property owners the province will come to their aid. 

But when asked if cottage owners who suffered flood damage will be compensated, Wynne said "each situation is different."

"I'm not going to second-guess that process because everyone needs to get the information from the ministry and make their applications," she said.

Private flood insurance brand new, rare

The Insurance Board of Canada said there is actually so-called "overland" flood insurance, as opposed to the sewer backup insurance many people have.

Craig Stewart, the bureau's vice-president of federal affairs, told Ottawa Morning host Hallie Cotnam on Tuesday morning this kind of insurance was only introduced in the last 12 to 18 months and only 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians have it.

"At this moment some people can [get it] and some people can't because it's brand new and the companies are just rolling it out now," he said.

"The reason it's brand new in Canada is it's very difficult to assess the risk and therefore to price it … In order to provide it we've had to map the entire country for flood risk, then individual companies are determining how [they] roll out these policies to our customers in a way that's affordable."

Stewart said Canada's insurance industry has been talking to different levels of government over the last two years to make sure people can get affordable insurance.

He said people who live along the Ottawa River and other high-risk areas should talk to their insurance company to find out if this new insurance is available for them.

With files from CBC's Ottawa Morning