Rest of Canada doesn't appreciate extent of Calgary damage: Mulcair

Calgary — The Globe and Mail

A screengrap of NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Calgary June 4, 2013. - CP

Federal Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair says he doesn’t think the rest of Canada has a full understanding of the devastation caused by floods that hit southern Alberta two weeks ago.

Wearing a cowboy hat and a Stampede “Hell or High Water” T-shirt at a Calgary pancake breakfast Thursday, Mr. Mulcair was scheduled to tour the hard-hit Siksika First Nation, and visit the town of High River – where the cleanup of thousands of homes and businesses is in full swing.

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The NDP Leader, who will also attend the Calgary Stampede parade Friday morning, said the flooding disaster means politicians must set partisanship aside, as getting Alberta and the oil-and-gas centre of Calgary back up and working is not just a local priority, it’s a national priority. The massive scale and scope of the clean up and rebuilding in the wake of billions in flood damages is easily underestimated, he said.

“I don’t think the people in the rest of Canada understand that,” he said in an interview Thursday.

“Watching the grit, and the determination, and the incredible strength of the people of Calgary, it’s easy to forget that there are months, and months, and months of cleanup. And then years and years and years of rebuilding.

“And I don’t think that people have a full measure of that.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Calgary Thursday evening and will also attend the parade. Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will arrive in the city on Saturday and attend Stampede events on Sunday, as well as helping with flood cleanup efforts.

Politicians of all stripes make the annual pilgrimage to the 10-day rodeo and mega-festival to shake hands, flip pancakes and be seen, but this year the flooding disaster has made the tone slightly more reverent.

Mr. Mulcair said he wants to see First Nations and low-income Albertans, including seniors, who were pushed out of their homes put back into proper housing before the harsh Alberta winter hits. Down the road, he said governments need to work together to come up with a broader plan for flood disasters in Canada, perhaps modelled on the U.S. style of federal flood insurance in some areas.

As the uninsurable losses mount, some – including Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi – have raised the question of how the province will give fair disaster assistance to all Albertans whose homes are badly damaged, or will need to be bulldozed. Some of the worst hit low-lying Calgary neighbourhoods are also some of the wealthiest in the city.

But Mr. Mulcair said all Calgarians, no matter what their income or net worth, “have a right to get help from their municipal, provincial and federal governments.”

“Beyond that, I think that we should be pushing hard to make sure that the settlements by the insurance companies have a generous interpretation that favours the insured.”