You know us. We’re the technical flood nerds who tromp through floodplains, build hydraulic models, make flood maps, and recommend actions to communities to reduce their flood risk. BUT, we are also policy wonks; we care what decisions are made by senior government, as they ultimately steer the ship with the big policy levers (you know…$).

In past years, we were super excited to see flood, other natural hazards, and climate adaptation making a splash in the mandate letters. And, this year…with big promises in the Liberal Party platform coupled with what will most likely be Canada’s most expensive flood event occurring just one month ago…we were genuinely hopeful. Hopeful that this would be the moment for big changes, for real funding to support better understanding of flood and climate risks, and to guide all levels of government to make the difficult, but important decisions that will support long-term resilience.

We’ve only done a quick skim of all the letters. But the feeling is most definitely one of deflation. A few quick takeaways:

  • Natural Resources Canada still has the mandate to “complet[e] work with provinces and territories to develop flood maps for higher-risk areas, advancing work to complete flood mapping nation-wide, supporting the development of a portal to provide centralized access to information on flood risks”. This is old news, but still counts as good news.
  • Public Safety Canada has been relieved of all its responsibility (at least in the mandate letter) for flood, presumably because we have a new minister/agency…
  • The new Minister for Emergency Preparedness has now got the job to support NRCan with their mapping mandate. He is also tasked with supporting on the creation of a low-cost insurance program for high-risk properties, which although a reasonable interim solution to the financial woes related to flood and climate disaster, is not exactly a long-term silver bullet. Minister Blair is also tasked with working with insurers to support other risk reduction measures…which again, is a good initiative, but only if it is fleshed out to include the whole-of-society.
  • Much like Public Safety, Environment and Climate Change Canada seems to have lost its explicit mandate to consider flood. They are charged with developing Canada’s first Climate Adaptation Strategy, which would presumably consider the whole diversity of climate risks. We do however note that this bullet is well down the list behind climate mitigation activities. Adaptation continues to play second fiddle, despite the very obvious need to be on an equal playing field with mitigation.

On the quick scan, what seems to be missing is the bold recognition that climate adaptation should be a top priority (not a middling one), and that climate adaptation and flood risk reduction is systemic, and requires that most, if not all, federal agencies have this on their radar, and that they work TOGETHER to reduce risks and to minimize the chances for maladaptation. For example, this line in the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion has us a little panicked: “Invest in a new Housing Accelerator Fund to support municipalities in increasing the housing supply in Canada’s largest cities through measures such as inclusionary zoning, increased densification, reductions in construction approval timelines and the rapid development of vacant or underused lands.” Does vacant or underused land = hazardous lands….probably.

So, in summary – the excitement from the last round of mandate letters, and the party platforms….has most certainly waned.