The provincial government is changing the way it shares the burden of cost with municipalities after flooding events, and encouraging communities to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure.
The Disaster Financial Assistance program is a cost-sharing agreement between Manitoba and its municipalities to cover the bill for damages in the event of a natural disaster.
The arrangement dictated the province would step in with funds after a threshold of spending was reached by the municipality for repairs — a deductible of sorts. Previously, that deductible equated to $1 in spending per resident; the new agreement requires an equivalent of $3.25 per resident.
That deductible will no longer go directly towards repairs, but instead will be placed in a reserve fund for the municipality’s later use.
"Indeed, the municipality will have a larger deductible, but we are saying, as a province, we will cover all of the costs to get the municipality back to pre-disaster conditions," Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires said Thursday.
"What we are requiring of municipalities is, you take an equivalent amount of money — what your deductible would be — and instead of paying the deductible, put that money in a reserve account for flood mitigation and building climate resiliency in the municipalities."
Squires said the reserve fund could then be used for either current or future projects.
The changes will take effect April 1.
"The purpose of this is to get municipalities working toward building infrastructure that won’t be flooded out again in two years. We’ve seen where we’ve used disaster assistance money to get a municipality back to pre-disaster conditions, only to see them flood once again," she said.
Emerson-Franklin Reeve David Carlson was briefed by provincial representatives Thursday, along with elected officials from other municipalities. He said there are still questions to be answered but, in general, he favours the change.
"I understand what they’re trying to do here," Carlson said, adding he, too, has felt the frustration of rebuilding infrastructure projects for them only to be damaged again.
"With global warming challenges that we’re going to face in the future, we’ll probably be having to do some more mitigation projects."
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler was also present at the announcement. He said an updated flood forecast would be released next week, but, so far, the province is expecting similar levels to last year, short of Mother Nature sending "a severe weather bomb."
"We are cautiously optimistic, we’re always prepared for anything that might come at us," Schuler said.
The government is continuing to work on protocols to address how Manitobans should deal with any possible flooding, while abiding by social-distancing health protocols in place to fight the novel coronavirus threat.
The announcement of a change in disaster funds came paired with the unveiling of $7.8 million in funding for flood preparedness projects in communities across the province. More than 80 municipalities are benefiting from the funding, which foots the bill for everything from water pumps and generators to sandbags.
The funding allotted for these projects was originally capped at $3 million. "But in light of the need for preparation this spring, the funding will more than double for projects in areas all across Manitoba," Squires said.
The proposals that have been green-lit were evaluated by a panel of representatives from the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, Winnipeg Metropolitan Region, and the Manitoba government.
More than $2 million of the funding is allotted to 13 municipalities in the capital region.
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.