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In the face of extreme weather events, Canada must plan for resiliency

Charles Brindamour is chief executive officer of Intact Financial Corp.

As we consider the federal government's latest budget, we need to pay attention to the investments we are making to build a strong and resilient economic foundation; they are more important than ever. Every goal we have as Canadians depends on the careful stewardship of the land we share. Climate change is dramatically changing the equation. To protect our shared goals and dreams, we need to plan for resiliency now in the face of an increase in extreme weather events.

Canadians have first-hand experience with the ravages of a changing environment. Floods, fires and other climate-related disasters disrupt families and lives. They also endanger the growth and vitality of local economies. As Canada's largest property and casualty insurer, we have dealt with the challenge of climate change for some time. In recent years, the majority of home insurance claims we have resolved with Canadians have been related to severe or extreme weather.

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You need only to turn to the front page of any newspaper to see the impact extreme weather has had on families, businesses and the economy. Alberta has experienced two of the costliest natural disasters in Canadian history: the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire and the 2013 Alberta floods, with economic costs estimated to be close to $10-billion and $6-billion, respectively. In the last 18 months, floods in Central and Eastern Canada have cost our economy more than $3-billion.

The effects of climate change will have a long-term economic impact on Canada and the world. This is why we entered into a research partnership with the University of Waterloo and opened the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. The ICCA's work is dedicated to helping Canada cope with the effects of extreme weather and climate change.

Investments announced in this and the previous two budgets were needed and are another step in the right direction. We are pleased to see the Trudeau government making prudent investments in climate resiliency and emergency response.

Canada has demonstrated its ability to tackle big challenges before. Co-ordinated efforts in pandemic planning have brought governments at all levels together to protect us from health disasters. To address climate change, the momentum of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is proof that we can pull together to address challenges ahead, but more needs to be done.

First, there is an urgent need to update emergency management in Canada. More work must be done to mitigate against the impact of disasters. A review of Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements is key to ensure Canadians have the support to rebuild their lives after disaster strikes.

Second, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers must accelerate its work to commit to a new Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy as wildfires are expected to become more frequent. Most communities threatened by wildfires are in regions whose burn areas are projected to increase 50 per cent to 200 per cent because of climate change.

Third, we need to update Canada's flood maps and integrate them in land-planning tools so that we keep Canadians out of harm's way.

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Fourth, while it's clear we need to continue boosting infrastructure spending, all levels of government should integrate climate resiliency as criteria for funding new projects and the federal government should make it an integral part of its new National Housing Strategy. We need to build right the first time and ensure that retrofits meet higher climate-resiliency standards.

Finally, we encourage governments to quickly adopt the new building standards being developed by the Standards Council of Canada, National Research Council, and the Canadian Standards Association. The widespread adoption of these standards by provinces and municipalities will better protect homeowners.

This year's federal budget is another step forward in ensuring we are prepared to manage the risks that lie ahead. However, the ambition to make Canada more resilient in the face of significant climate shifts requires more than the collective action of all levels of government. The future of our economic well-being depends on it.

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