Alberta pledges $1-billion in flood relief for families and municipalities

The Globe and Mail

Military personnel drive in a light-armoured vehicle across a washed-out highway from High River, Alta., on June 24, 2013, while construction crews build a temporary berm to stop the flow of water from flooded farm land. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

As water levels fall and some evacuees return home, the cost of Alberta’s flood is becoming clear – with the province pledging an initial $1-billion for what Premier Alison Redford said could be a 10-year rebuilding effort.

The flooding in Calgary and across southern Alberta could prove to be one of Canada’s most expensive natural disasters. Ms. Redford opened the provincial treasury Monday, saying help will be given quickly to those affected. “We are committed to doing everything we can to make sure people rebuild their lives,” she said.

Story continues below ad

Ms. Redford’s pledge comes as BMO Nesbitt Burns predicted damage could reach $5-billion. The federal government will pay for part of that damage, but declined to provide its own estimate. Meanwhile, flooding in northern Alberta has also shuttered several major Enbridge pipelines, cutting off nearly half of the province’s oil export capacity. The company began restoring service Monday after closing the lines to examine them for potential damage after a small leak near Fort McMurray.

The province estimates between 100,000 and 120,000 people were affected. Only the Winnipeg flood of 1950, in which 107,000 people were displaced, rivals that figure, according to the Canadian Disaster Database. BMO’s projections would make Alberta’s flood Canada’s second-costliest natural disaster, behind the 1998 ice storm, which cost $6.2-billion in today’s dollars.

By Monday, though, there was good news. Calgary Stampede officials said they’d push forward with the city’s premier tourism event. Power was being restored to the city’s downtown and all but a few residents have been allowed to return home. To help them do so, officials asked for 600 volunteers on short notice Monday morning. An estimated 2,500 showed up.

“This is Calgary, folks. This is the spirit of this community,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

The $1-billion pledge means Alberta will further delay its goal of balancing its books. The money will cover a range of flood-response programs. One program will see the province, as soon as Wednesday, begin handing out preloaded debit cards, with $1,250 per adult and $500 per child, to those affected by the flood. The $1-billion will also cover some costs of towns and cities, Ms. Redford said. “The world changed on Thursday,” when flooding hit, she said.

Across Alberta, 23 communities were still in states of emergency by midday Monday due to flooding. The town of High River, which was worst hit by the floods, remained on an evacuation order. In Calgary, Mr. Nenshi warned that rivers are still unsafe, and called on Calgarians to cut back on water use and offer a hand to those who need it. By Monday evening, the province had cancelled its flooding alert for the city of Calgary.

“It important for all of us as friends and neighbours and family – and we’re all family now – to make sure that we keep our spirits up, to make sure that as people are being dragged down, we are lifting them up,” he said.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the regional minister for flood-affected southern Alberta, declined to guess what the federal cost might be, but Ottawa typically pays as much as 90 per cent of certain costs. “The federal government will be there in a very significant way,” he said, adding that Ottawa is also streamlining Employment Insurance programs.

The province was also facing questions about a report produced after major floods in 2005. It was completed in 2006 but shelved for six years. It included a range of recommendations that have received only minimal implementation – including that the province stop allowing flood plains to be developed.

The death toll for the flood stands at four. One was identified as Rob Nelson, a 41-year-old lawyer and father of six who rolled his ATV Friday morning while helping neighbours keep flood water from their homes. Family friend Larry Spackman said he’ll remember Mr. Nelson as a man of faith, one who was a proud father and who helped people when he could. “They’re calling him a hero, because he was out helping others when he died,” Mr. Spackman said. “That’s what I would call him.”

Follow us on Twitter: @KellyCryderman, @josh_wingrove