In November 2021, a severe “atmospheric river” flood hit British Columbia (BC), causing unprecedented damage to personal property and critical infrastructure. It was the worst flooding event in provincial history, causing $696 million in insured damage.* Highway 1 in Abbotsford was completely submerged under water, while bridges on the Coquihalla Highway – which many people, myself included, travel down to visit BC’s interior – were completely washed away.
During the first weekend of December 2023, BC faced another atmospheric river flood event. While it was less intense than the 2021 event, it was a stark reminder that our changing climate means we will see more frequent and severe flooding events. This issue is especially acute for governments as they struggle to balance spending decisions against the need to fund the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program. These disaster relief programs do not provide the same level of financial protection as insurance but are the last line of support for people who are uninsured or underinsured.
How do we protect people who live in high-risk flood zones where insurance is not accessible? A critical step is toward making this a reality is to have everyone – provincial and municipal governments, emergency organizations, and the public - urge the federal government to move ahead with the national flood insurance program the federal government committed to in Budget 2023. If adopted, this program would provide those living in high-risk areas with financial protection and peace of mind when disaster strikes. Canada’s property and casualty insurance industry has strongly advocated for this public-private insurance program, and it has never been closer to becoming a reality than now.
The federal government committed $32 million over three years to establish the program. However, it requires political and financial support from all provinces and territories to ensure this program is ready to provide flood insurance coverage to those at the highest risk as soon as 2024.
Here in BC, the government is on the right track in implementing its new Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy and developing the BC Flood Strategy, which will examine flood risk management holistically. This commendable work includes a range of actions needed to reduce flood risk, including improving land-use planning, enhancing flood defence infrastructure, and better using our natural environment to help protect communities.
What is lacking, however, is an alternative to the existing DFAA program to provide financial protection. As catastrophic weather events become more common in BC, flood victims, especially those who live where affordable insurance is not available, are often left in a serious financial bind after a disaster. DFAA only provides basic recovery costs, and in many instances the payment comes long after the catastrophic event. This is where the national flood insurance program could help, providing financial resilience to the 10% of Canadians who cannot access private sector flood insurance products. It terms of additional costs, a national flood insurance program could also help offset the cost of DFAA for both the federal and provincial governments.
Time is of the essence. The flood insurance product is ready, and Canada’s insurance industry is ready to work in partnership with government to deliver it where it is most needed. We just need our federal and provincial governments to come together and put a collective stamp of approval on the program. This way, when the next flood devastates a community, residents can have peace of mind that an insurance program will be in place to help them recover.
*Sources: IBC Facts Book, PCS, CatIQ, Swiss Re, Munich Re and Deloitte. Values in 2022$ CAN, loss and loss adjustment expenses.