Gatineau councillor who lost home to flood decries 'horrendous' Quebec bureaucracy

The water has subsided, the damage has been tallied, and now some flood-weary Gatineau residents face a grim outcome: they have no choice but to demolish their beloved homes.

Goneau says province must use more compassion when dealing with spring flood victims

Sylvie Goneau said there was a metre and a half of water in the basement of her home, where her father lived. She had planned to begin repairs, but the province of Quebec told her it was a total loss. (CBC)

The water has subsided, the damage has been tallied, and now some flood-weary Gatineau residents face a grim outcome: they have no choice but to demolish their beloved homes.

One of those homeowners is Gatineau city Coun. Sylvie Goneau, who is losing the home her grandfather built and that she's lived in since she was a child.

"I'll be honest, it was very difficult for me to come to grips with the fact that I had to demolish the home that's been in the family for so many generations," said Goneau, a councillor for Gatineau's Bellevue district who is running for mayor in the upcoming civic election.

"Even if it's an old house, you take pride, and you feel the responsibility that it was mine to take care, and protect."

'Emotional tragedy'

In May, the swollen Ottawa River crept into Goneau's house on Hurtubise Boulevard.

At the peak of the flooding there was about a metre and a half of water in the basement, where her father lived.

Sandbagging efforts outside Sylvie Goneau's family home in Gatineau during last spring's flooding. (Supplied)

Goneau said her whole family worked "endlessly" for five days, sandbagging and trying to prevent devastating water damage, but in the end their efforts were in vain.

The flood destroyed the first storey of the house.

"The bulk of the emotional tragedy set in at that time," she said.

Bureaucracy 'horrendous'

And that was just the beginning of another ordeal.

Her family hoped to repair the home but while they were making plans, the province of Quebec ruled that homes with flood-damage costs representing more than 50 per cent of the value of the property cannot be rebuilt if the house is in a flood zone.

The government later decided to base its valuation of whether a home is damaged by more than 50 per cent of its total value on the cost of new construction, not on municipal valuations.

"Everybody says it's very complicated to live in the flood zone," said Goneau. "And I'll tell you, in all honesty, it's not the water rising that's complicated. It's the bureaucracy that's happening after the flood. And that's been horrendous."

Sylvie Goneau is the Gatineau city councillor for Bellevue district. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
Part of the home sits on a zero- to 20-year flood zone, and part sits on a 20- to 100-year zone. They can only get a permit to rebuild in the latter zone, farther up from the water.

Goneau said she's "not happy the way the province has handled this," getting the ruling that they can't rebuild when they were already meeting with contractors and engineers.

"It has to be simplified. We have to take the opportunity to sit down and analyze how this has been managed, and make it a lot easier," she said. 

"Because people are left in the dark, and it's very, very difficult. The emotional toll on most people that are living this situation is horrible."

Staying in hotel

Goneau, her husband, and her father are currently staying in a hotel while they sort out their home, and they're thankful for support from the Red Cross.

But with fellow Gatineau residents devastated by the spring flood, she wants the province to be more efficient and compassionate by cutting red tape.

"I'm one of the lucky ones that has the financial ability to take on a new mortgage. I have space on my land to be able to rebuild," said Goneau.

"There are people that are left with almost nothing. And they don't have the emotional strength to go through and to move forward, and they don't understand how the system works. That's how complex it is. We have to make it better for everybody."'

Sandbags remain outside Sylvie Goneau's flood-damaged Gatineau home. (CBC)