The Current

Homes in high-risk floodplains should be subject to mandatory buyouts, says expert

As parts of Quebec suffer serious flooding for the second time since 2017, one expert warns that by helping them to rebuild, authorities are just risking it happening again and again.

People use government bailouts to 'rebuild in place,' says Glenn McGillivray

Thousands of people were forced from their homes over the weekend, as flood waters rose in Ottawa, Gatineau, pictured, and across western Quebec. (Jean Delisle/CBC)
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Authorities should issue mandatory buyouts instead of paying to repair homes repeatedly damaged because they sit in floodplains, according to an expert in disaster prevention.

"It's not a popular thing to do, people aren't clamouring for it," said Glenn McGillivray, managing director for The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.

Thousands of people were forced from their homes over the weekend, as flood waters rose in Ottawa, Gatineau, and across western Quebec. For residents of the Pointe-Gatineau neighbourhood in Gatineau, the evacuation feels like a repeat of what became devastating floods in 2017, which submerged cars and damaged hundreds of properties.

Touring the neighbourhood Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault said the province will offer a maximum of $100,000 to homeowners dealing with flood damage. Beyond that, it would offer to buy the home at a maximum cost of $200,000.

But McGillivray told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that "as long as the government is writing the cheque and bailing people out … they just rebuild in place and go on with their life."

He added that while the Quebec government's terms are a move in the right direction, the buyout should be at a fair price, but mandatory.

Quebec Premier François Legault, centre, shakes hands with a volunteer while touring flood-hit Gatineau Monday. (Jean-François Poudrier/Radio-Canada)

"I don't think you can leave it to people to always make the right decision," he told Tremonti.

"As tough as the mandatory buyout idea is, I think it's the way to go, particularly in the very high-risk areas."

Otherwise "it'll happen again, and it'll happen again, and it'll happen again," he said.

He pointed to a mandatory buyout program after Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto in 1954, killing dozens of people.

Parkland floods — floods all the time — but there's no property damage, there's no loss of life.- Glenn McGillivray

The province bought up the affected land around the Humber River and turned it into parkland, he said.

"Parkland floods — floods all the time — but there's no property damage, there's no loss of life."

But contrast, he said that a voluntary buyout program after flooding in Alberta in 2013 was "an abject failure."

"Now we have these neighbourhoods that are pockmarked with homes that were either abandoned or moved away, and then you have people that stayed."

"That's not a good solution either."

Aerial view of the flooding in Ottawa and the Outaouais. 1:25

Guy Pilon, mayor of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., said that while flooding is a risk in many areas, it is not always catastrophic, and people should be given the choice about moving.

"It's very hard to tell someone who lived all his life there [to leave]. We have some owners who are in the third generation," he told Tremonti.

He suggested a one-off payment to help people in lower-risk areas prepare their homes to withstand some flooding.

"They have to understand it cannot be done more than once in their life," he said.

"After that, if they decide … to stay there, they have to live with the consequences."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin, Ines Colabrese, Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Jessica Linzey. 

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