Municipalities ask Ottawa for billions of dollars to protect themselves from climate change

The group representing more than 2,000 municipalities is asking for billions of dollars from the federal government to help cities and towns protect themselves from climate-related events as wildfires, floods, heat waves and droughts increase in intensity.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities says the sum would help communities become more resilient

A couple looks at the Mount Law wildfire, near Peachland and Glenrosa on the west side of Okanagan Lake, from the waterfront in Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 15. (Artur Gajda/REUTERS)

The group representing more than 2,000 municipalities is asking for billions of dollars from the federal government to help cities and towns protect themselves from climate-related events as wildfires, floods, heat waves and droughts increase in intensity.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities told CBC News the large sum would help communities become more resilient, reducing property damage and saving lives.

"There is a sense of urgency. So I think being very ambitious is what we need," said Joanne Vanderheyden, FCM president and mayor of the municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc in Ontario.

"Municipal leaders really turn federal investments into jobs and outcomes people can see and feel. It's urgent that we get this right and we get it done now."

The FCM is asking for:

  • $2 billion over three years, followed by at least $1 billion annually starting in 2024-2025, to support disaster mitigation and climate resilience projects for things like wildfire mitigation, drought reduction, flood prevention and restoration of wetlands and shorelines.
  • $100 million annually for 10 years to enhance municipal natural infrastructure by, among other things, letting municipalities purchase forests, wetlands and green spaces.
  • $500 million over five years to update regional climate modelling and natural hazard maps and to include climate impacts in asset management and infrastructure planning.

"We can't plan a disaster, but we can plan for disaster. And to plan for a disaster, we have to have all of these things in place," said Vanderheyden.

The requests will be part of a more comprehensive set of policy recommendations from FCM that will be released later during this election.

The crushing impact of climate-driven natural disasters was obvious at the start of the campaign, as destructive wildfires ripped through parts of the British Columbia interior.

An evacuation order remains in place for more than 1,300 properties in the region.

In a grim summary of the situation, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report earlier this month warning that without a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the world is on course for global warming that would have grave consequences.

An automobile is submerged in flood waters in the Montreal suburb of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Quebec, on April 29, 2019. More than 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Eastern Canada that year. (Sebastien St-Jean/AFP/Getty Images)

UN Secretary General António Guterres called it "code red for humanity."

Vanderheyden said that, as the first level of government to respond to natural disasters, municipalities are on the front lines of the climate crisis and need more help.

"You don't know when you're going to be the municipality that's going to be dealing with one of these issues, whether it's a hurricane, flooding ... we have to build that resiliency," she said.

"And we can do that on the ground level but we need support from the federal government in order to do that."

What the parties are promising 

The Liberal government launched a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in 2018 for infrastructure projects to support communities affected by natural disasters triggered by climate change.

The spring budget included nearly $1.4 billion more for the fund, over 12 years, and almost $2 billion over five years for Public Safety Canada to support provincial and territorial disaster response and recovery efforts. 

Earlier in the campaign, Trudeau promised to spend $500 million to train at least 1,000 firefighters "in targeted wildfire risk management strategies in communities across the country."

The Conservatives are promising to appoint a national disaster resilience adviser to the Privy Council Office and to invest in technology to "improve the early detection of wildfires and better predict their behaviour."

They've also promised to bring forth a national action plan on floods, which would include a residential high-risk flood insurance program, and a national climate adaptation strategy.

On Thursday, while proposing new supports for gig workers, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole tied Canada's economic recovery to its ability to react to climate change.

"If we don't have a strong economy — which is happening under Mr. Trudeau, runaway inflation, a cost of living crisis, jobs, investment leaving our country — if we don't unite our country, get it working again, we can't tackle climate change," he said.

"So we will meet our [emission] targets and we'll get this country back to work."

'People can't breathe the air'

The NDP is promising to increase federal funding for responding to disasters and to help communities adapt their infrastructure to withstand extreme weather, forest fires and floods. The party promises to work with Indigenous communities to develop "coordinated action plans" to respond to emergencies such as floods and wildfires.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the country is in the midst of a climate crisis. 

"We are seeing the impacts of that crisis right now, with extreme weather that we've never seen before. Forest fires ravaging our country in extreme circumstances that we've also never seen before. People can't breathe the air. People are seeing flooding, heat waves," he said.

"We can tackle this if we make this a priority."

The Greens, meanwhile, want to buy more water bombers to combat forest fires and to map flood plains, tornado corridors "and other areas of natural vulnerability and adjust land use plans accordingly." The Bloc Québécois has pointed to forest fires and floods as proof that more must be done to slash greenhouse gas emissions.


  • A previous version of this story said the Liberals are promising $50 million for firefighting training. It is $500 million.
    Aug 27, 2021 1:16 PM ET

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