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Flooded homes at the Siksika First Nation East of Calgary along the Bow River. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail) (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Flooded homes at the Siksika First Nation East of Calgary along the Bow River. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail) (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

Calgary’s resilience – and the sharing of costs Add to ...

For all Canadians, Calgary continues to redefine resilience. Less than a fortnight after the disastrous floods of late June, it kicked off the Stampede, and gave the country a show to remember. Its damaged mass-transit line was repaired in days. Its waterlogged zoo is set to reopen next Wednesday.

Even its city council pulled off a bit of a municipal Noah’s Ark this week by holding its first meeting since the floods, in a suburban industrial park. Council’s temporary location may seem at odds with the cosmopolitan cool that Mayor Naheed Nenshi has brought to urban politics. But with the century-old downtown city hall still damaged from flooding, the mayor and his council felt they should make do, moving to the higher ground of an unmarked low-rise building at Deerfoot Junction.

If such resilience is good for Calgary, Mr. Nenshi would like Canadians to share the spirit. Do you know anyone in the city? He suggests giving them a call, just to say hello. Offer to host them for the holidays. Send your colleagues a supportive e-mail. He likes to cite one resident’s handmade sign, as a message for all: “We lost some stuff, but we gained a community.”

That sense of community now needs to extend across the country, and more than spiritually. Calgary’s bills are starting to add up (as are those of High River and other devastated communities in southern Alberta). It will soon be a Canadian problem, as the federal government starts to help foot much of the bill. And there’s no better place to kick-start a constructive national conversation than this week’s annual premiers’ meeting, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Every province has a stake in getting the formula right.

Mr. Nenshi doesn’t have a specific number yet for repairs – let alone for new mitigation and prevention measures – but he acknowledges the cost of rebuilding Calgary will be many billions of dollars. The zoo will need at least $50-million, he figures. Long stretches of parks also lie in ruins. In total, public areas and facilities could require as much as $750-million. And then there’s the biggest cost of all: compensation for homes and businesses damaged by overland flooding, which insurance companies do not cover.

In the coming weeks, the province will need to determine what sorts of claims will be honoured. Wine cellars and marble counter-tops may be out. Children’s trampolines may be in. Fairness needs to be an operating principle, not just for Albertans but for all Canadians who will pay part of the bill. That is why the premiers are a good group to offer advice on how Ottawa and the provinces can share such costs. They may even help convince Premier Alison Redford that now is the time to introduce a modest provincial sales tax, to be used exclusively for flood measures.

The reimbursement process will need to be seen as non-political; ideally, civil servants, business and civic representatives would set guidelines for the billions that will be spent. Provincial and federal politicians will also need to help explain to Canadians that cities are more expensive than towns to repair, and that as economic hubs – and Calgary is one that serves all of Canada – they merit more resources.

However the pie is divided, it should be kept in mind that Alberta has always been there for Canada. Even Mr. Nenshi, through disaster, is seeing the strength of our federal model. Just days before the floods, he had told an Ottawa audience, “I can never remember what the federal government does, even though they have all the money.” Now, he does, and Canadians, through Calgary’s resilience, may soon see the country at its best.

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