It was a strange coincidence that in my Science class yesterday I was teaching my Grade 7 students about the agriculture industry in the Dirty Thirties the same day U.S. President Obama nixed a major oil export project.
I was describing to these students how the agriculture industry killed the agriculture industry. Farmers sought to turn more soil to produce more food, and in doing so loosened up too much, leaving soil very susceptible to erosion. This eventually caused the agriculture industry to collapse, and the entire economy that was dependent on that single industry collapsed with it, hence the name “Dirty Thirties”. With no backup industry to help it recover until the arrival of another war, recovery was a painfully long road.
Of course this is an oversimplification, but the lesson was supposed to be direct and to a point. It occurred to me that we were seeing that exact same issue today, but the industry isn’t agriculture. It’s oil.
Keystone XL is a pipeline project that was intended to pump oil from the Alberta oilsands to the U.S. for processing. This oil is currently being transported by rail, an obviously dangerous prospect. Today, U.S. President Obama not only rejected the project, he rebuked what he called “dirty oil”.
Immediately pundits from around North America belaboured that “dirty oil” phrase, including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. They are certainly right that Alberta’s oilsands are not, as characterized by many U.S. officials and celebrities, the “dirtiest oil on the planet”. Certainly the pipeline would be environmentally safer, and exceptionally so, than rail transport. But that is now entirely beside the point.
The true point is that in one very public announcement, President Obama has set the stage for a shift in major industries. The oil industry is not the way of the future anymore. This has been suggested for a while now, but Obama’s announcement was basically the same as ordering the oil industry’s coffin.
If Alberta isn’t careful, it’s headed for another Dirty Thirties. Any region whose economy depends on oil as its main industry with no other independent industry capable of carrying it through the oil industry’s collapse is in for a major coma. It is not a case of “if”. It is a case of “when”. And with Obama’s announcement, “when” just got a whole lot closer.
Meanwhile conservatives both North and South of the 49th parallel are indignantly crying over whose fault it is. They defiantly defend their economic baby. The fight is not over, cry Republicans, calling Democrats tone-deaf on the issue. It’s Canada’s new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fault for pulling out of Syria, cries top Canadian Conservatives. TransCanada (the company behind Keystone XL) is considering reapplying. Notley talks about engaging in other projects that will get oil exported elsewhere, and distracts by talking about climate change (an important consideration, but still misses the point). Few are actually talking about the elephant in the room.
That elephant is that oil is dying. In Alberta, there is no new generational industry to take up its mantle. We’re risking “dirty oil” becoming Alberta’s reprise of the Dirty Thirties.
Suddenly the introduction of the new Economic Diversification Ministry in Alberta is not only important, it is necessary to ensure our economy does not end up on life support. I'm curious to see what that next industry is. Clean energy? Agriculture?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally disappointed with Obama’s announcement. Oil is already on its way to the U.S., Keystone XL would have made that journey far safer. And our world is based on oil right now. We can’t buy the future at the expense of the present.
However, it would be worse to ignore the future altogether.
It's official. The world is changing. Is Alberta ready to change with it?
If we aren't, when will we wake up from the coma?
There has been a great deal of good news coming from High River. Our presence has never been more noticeable at the Calgary Stampede, what with our float getting so much coverage and awards, and a chuckwagon with our logo on the side running every night. Shortly a book will be released sharing some of the stories of the flood; stories of immense challenge balanced with unyielding persistence and survival.
If that were only the way it really was. For many High Riverites, the nightmare doesn't ever end.
Recall Richard Murray, given full approval to remediate his basement, only to have that approval swiped away from him after he sunk every last dollar he had into it. With three separate Associate Ministers managing the portfolio, all answering to three different Municipal Affairs Ministers in the past year, it's no wonder the DRP changed multiple times. The process stole his home from him as a result, and now he is no longer a resident of Alberta.
Introducing Jim Morgan, owner of a small business in High River, and a passionate High Riverite. His Facebook and Twitter feeds are a treasure trove of one-liners and insightful knee-slappers mixed with musings about the awesomeness in High River. He is known for his positivity.
Except when the Disaster Recovery Program, the system whose primary purpose was to help people get back to what they once were, offered him $702 to cover the costs of all things lost in his business. They demanded 350 photos, reams of itemized lists of things lost, and even 3 years of business statements, only to tell him that they were covering half of the labour for cleaning his business. Why only half? Because DRP expects insurance to cover the rest. Morgan is being shirked by insurance as well. Again, as I have asked for from the very beginning, where is the event-specific ombudsman that would have negotiated these nebulous lines?
Introducing D and L, High River residents who have not spent a single night at home for 13 months. Their full names are not shared because they don't want anything jeopardizing their work with the DRP. DRP is not offering them even a fraction of the cost to remediate their homes, because they determine whether or not the home is in flood fringe or floodway based on the elevation of their front door - not their walkout basement. Their walkout basement is clearly in floodway (and as Jim Morgan explained in the Facebook post listed above, that should never have been allowed to happen, but because it did, Government now needs to deal with it), yet this tiny piece of fine print the DRP has arbitrarily decided to create is preventing the Sundby's from affording to live at home. They hold out, hoping to move back to the town they love soon.
Interestingly, the government is still using outdated maps for determining where floodplains are. Observe the two maps below. The first was the one I demonstrated shortly after the flood as grotesquely out of date.
The second is what is currently posted by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The changes are only in roadways and town boundaries. When we asked for updated flood maps, we didn't ask for something Google could produce for us; the floodplains were supposed to be updated long ago and they haven't been.
By the way, if you are a Cardston resident or business owner who got flooded this year, do everything possible to get your recovery assistance to ignore flood maps, because your maps are horribly inaccurate as well.
If it's not changing leadership, confusion with insurance, or maps, what other reasons could there be for people to be denied DRP funding? Introducing Chuck Shifflett, High River luthier. As a single example in his saga with DRP, he was told that his heritage home needed to have the foundation completely fixed, and to mitigate against future floods they even raised it two feet. Then DRP chose not to reimburse him for his foresight or care for parts of our heritage. The reason: the house is too old.
If these four people were in the buyout territories known as floodway, they would have cost taxpayers approximately $1.5 million. They aren't looking for buyouts, so really their combined costs are actually half that, if not even lower. Still sounds like a lot, right? So if the government is saving that money by not giving it to the homeless and businessless, where is all this money going?
To golf courses. $18 million that will fix a golf course that will likely be damaged again in the next high rainfall event.
They say it is to help encourage the tourist economy in that area of the province. What they didn't divulge is the link to another Progressive Conservative party sole-sourced contract to PC friends.
But let's look passed that little nugget for a moment and consider the 150 jobs lost when the golf course closed, and the 51,000 rounds of golf Albertans play there each year.
I guess the 120 people still living in Saddlebrook, homeless, and with no certain resolution on their homes is less than 150 jobs.
I guess the many businesses, like Morgan's, that have to close up shop, or the dozen businesses that will be left homeless when their temporary structures get torn down this summer (their original locations are still under heavy construction or in lease agreement disputes) is less than 150 jobs.
I guess rounds of golf are more important than people.
If each damaged home in High River cost $200,000 to remediate (not an unrealistic number), that $18 million would fix 90 homes. So I ask you, 600 rounds of golf, or a place for a family to sleep?
This argument, however, ignores a problem the government is having to deal with; inappropriate developments in inappropriate places. Homes are built in floodplains. Thankfully the local government is trying to deal with this by undeveloping certain areas. It might be wildly unfair to people who purchased those places hoping to stay until their mandatory relocation to Heaven, but hopefully even they understand that those developments are costing taxpayers year after year. However, in saying this, people in these areas, like Jamie Kinghorn, need to be compensated for the loss of their homes due to undevelopment (and any money they unwittingly spent fixing them prior to the undevelopment announcement).
But a golf course with links to the PC party is too important to relegate to undevelopment.
All development in the foothills causes problems in the watershed. In a natural state, the water gets slowed down, spread out in the groundwater, and doesn't gather anywhere near as much in rivers to cause high water events.
When development occurs, it packs down the ground, making it so that water doesn't seep, spread out and slow down. Rather it gathers in gutters, ditches, and eventually rivers, and causes high water events.
But don't you dare suggest undevelopment when it comes to a golf course. High River homeowners can be shunted to ... well, wherever, but PCs need to make sure Albertans get their 36 holes in.
How many of those golfers at this golf course were High Riverites, I wonder.
Please don't fall into the trap of thinking High River is on the road to recovery. It's not. It's not even on a paved secondary highway getting there yet. There are too many golf courses in the way.
The Alberta Party has a plan for the following things that would be of interest particularly to flood victims still dealing with DRP;
This is just a smattering of how the Alberta Party views proper management of the disaster recovery, and all of these measures can still be put into place after the PC government is gone.
I'll give the Alberta Government credit for being forward thinking. However, they are leaving a lot of Albertans behind in the present while they focus on the future.
This is not unusual, as our province is dealing with chronic symptoms of this approach. There are homeless people being left behind, mentally ill not being cared for, and senior citizens being ignored. As many of us have heard before, the quality of a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. Today's example of vulnerable Albertans being left behind are those still trying to get back into their homes after the 2013 flood, 32 days later.
This past weekend, the Government of Alberta announced a volunteer panel of experts in flood mitigation who would work to come upon solutions for the future. Their intent is to take into account the knowledge, experience, and opinion of everyday Albertans. This is a fantastic concept, and I'll congratulate the Alberta Government on this project, as it is necessary for us to move forward.
However, the Government is missing out on one key thing; flood mitigation does not matter in the slightest in the minds of Albertans who can't even get into their homes as a result of this flood.
I thought the Government already set themselves out a framework of priorities for response to this flood. It seems they forgot them already.
For many Albertans in High River, the Siksika Nation, Exshaw and Calgary (among other places, I'm sure), they are still in the "Stabilization" phase of that framework; some could even argue they are still in the "Response" phase. This panel is only applicable to the "Intermediate Recovery", arguably the "Long Term Recovery" phases.
Yes we need to discuss how to prevent this from happening again to the best of our ability. But not at the expense of those who are waiting to be helped back into their homes right now.
These people need answers to questions of what they should do now. These questions aren't "what should we do in the future to prevent this?" These questions are "what do I need to do to be able to go home?"
A lady at a Flood Information Night in High River called the residents who haven't gotten home yet the "sacrificial lambs". Announcing a flood mitigation panel is not likely to change that viewpoint.
Please share this Open Letter addressed to Rick Fraser. These are the questions we need answers to immediately, before anybody should care about flood mitigation for the future.
Click here to see the original letter and document.
Attention: The Honourable Rick Fraser, Associate Minister of Recovery and Reconstruction for High River
Dear Associate Minister,
I write to offer you the opportunity to directly respond in an open format to questions and concerns expressed by victims of the most recent 2013 Alberta Floods. It is in Albertans' best interests to have open, clear and concise communication about the needs of Albertans, and the Government's efforts to fulfill them. I intend on being a partner with you in the development of this communication.
In particular, the questions and concerns I refer to are many of those expressed at the Flood Information evening in High River on July 18, 2013, a meeting that left the vast majority of those attending dissatisfied with a lack of details. While the five gentlemen at the forum-styled information session answered questions to the best of their ability, they simply were not equipped to provide the details that High River residents were expecting, and that many other Albertans will also be expecting at their own Flood Information nights.
This has led to a great deal of frustration, and the level of discourse between residents and officials is dwindling rapidly as a result. I am hoping that through this letter we can retain a high level of discourse, and yet provide the details Albertans need, want and expect.
I am writing in this open format as many were unable to attend the meeting for a variety of reasons, and should have access to the content of the discussions, just as much as they should have access to the detailed responses. I believe this to be a perfect opportunity for you to connect more directly with the concerns expressed by residents, and therefore improve the level of communication with your open responses.
The format of the questions attached provide synopses of those expressed at the July 18 Information Night, the answers provided that same night, and the remaining detail High River residents in particular are looking for. It is my hope, as a partner in communication, you respond in a similarly open fashion. Should you do so, I would be very happy to share as publicly as possible on your behalf the responses you provide.
It should be noted that none of the questions attached refer to how the flood was managed, although it was a significant theme brought forward by High River residents during that Information Night. That would be a topic that should be assigned to an independent inquiry following the Stabilization phase of the Provincial Recovery Framework publicized earlier today. All questions below apply directly to the current stage of that Framework, the Stabilization phase.
I know you share with me a desire to help Albertans move forward following this flood. I hope you share with me a desire for improved communications, and therefore can work with me as a partner in informing Albertans with the details they need. Albertans have shown great resiliency through working in concert with each other, and I hope that working as partners in communication, we can continue that collaboration to the benefit of all Albertans.
High River Resident
CC: The Honourable Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta
Ms. Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for HighwoodThe Honourable Doug Horner, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Finance
The Honourable Doug Griffiths, Minister of Municipal Affairs
The Honourable Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
His Worship Emile Blokland, Mayor of the Town of High River
Mr. William Munsey, President of the Alberta Party
Citizens of the Province of Alberta
Question: Regarding Flood Maps - It is obvious, particularly to High River residents, the current flood maps were out-of-date prior to the flood, are now even moreso as a result of changes to the terrain due to the flood, and in some cases inaccurate as residents expressed a history of flooding even though their property is not in any designated flood zone. Residents not only want to know their status regarding potential future Disaster Recovery Funding but also the general safety and flood-mitigative needs of their houses regardless of the occurence of disasters. We recognize that no map can necessarily be perfectly accurate, but the extent to which the inaccuracies exist is causing undue pressure on residents. What is the timeline for the updating of these maps?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, however the need for updating the maps was recognized.
Associate Minister, can you please provide a commitment to a timeline for the updating of these maps so Albertans can make informed decisions about the future of their homes?
Question: Regarding Insurance Complaints - One representative at the Flood Information Evening explained that many houses were affected by sewage as high as the second level of their houses due to the pressure the floodwaters placed on the sewage system. Some insurance companies refuse to cover damage at those levels of the houses stating “sewage that high is not possible.” This is simply one example of the many disputes residents are having with their insurance providers. If there is a dispute between a resident and their insurance company, what recourse does the resident have?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: Hire a lawyer.
Follow-Up Question: If the insurance company is found to be at fault, will the Disaster Recovery Program cover those legal costs?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: No.
Recommendation provided by a representative from the Insurance Bureau of Canada via a Tele-Town Hall hosted by Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for Highwood: For any grievance, complaint or even minor inconvenience, consumers are asked to call the Insurance Bureau of Canada at 1-800-377-6378.
Associate Minister, can you please commit to collaborating with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to ensure not only are insurance contracts appropriately adhered to, but that consumers are protected from insurance companies who downplay the damage caused by the effects of the flood?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Residents are ready to remediate their houses now. These residents, however, have no financial means to procure the professional services to do so. How long will residents need to wait before they have the various resources, including financial, to begin the remediation process?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as responses are likely on a case-by-case basis, and require the presence of assessors prior to allocation of funds.
Associate Minister, in order to begin the remediation process immediately, can you please make funds available to residents immediately, understanding that residents will be responsible for costs over and above what is allocated to them through the Disaster Recovery Program? If not, can you offer another solution that will expediate the process of getting funds to residents so they can remediate their homes sooner?
Question: Regarding Mortgages - Many residents are at the season where they need to renegotiate their mortgages. Some of these residents are uncertain as to the future of their homes, and therefore do not know the next step in the mortgage-renegotiation process. What course of action should these residents take?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as the panel recognized they did not have the skillset to answer the question.
Associate Minister, can you and the Alberta Government advocate on behalf of residents to the various financial institutions to temporarily stay all mortgage activity of those who are eligible for Disaster Recovery Funding so that residents can focus on making the best decisions for themselves and their property which those financial institutions have a stake in? If not, can you ensure that Disaster Recovery Funding will also cover the costs of not renegotiating mortgages in a timely fashion?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Program Loophole - For residents living in Flood Fringe or Overland Water Flow zones (according to current maps) as well as residents who were not in any designated Flood zone, yet were devastated by these most recent floods, many of them are no longer in the physical, mental and/or financial position to remain in the same premises. Some of these homes have been condemned, and therefore residents have no choice available to them but to relocate. According to the summary flowchart provided by the Disaster Recovery Program, residents in these zones are only provided assistance if they chose to remain. For residents who, due to condemned houses, health-related inability or significant financial malady are incapable of choosing to remain and have a need to relocate due to the devastating impacts of this flood, what Disaster Recovery Funding is available to them?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: None.
Associate Minister, please recognize that the criteria for Disaster Recovery Funding for individuals in Flood Fringe zones assumes residents have a choice. Can you please adjust the criteria to also provide assistance to those residents who, for their own individual circumstances, have no choice remaining, and must relocate?
Question: Regarding Floodproofing Standards - Many residents expected that with an announcement that the Government of Alberta would only provide future disaster funding in the event of another flood if homes were appropriately mitigated, that the announcement would be followed presently by a description of those floodproofing standards. They expected at the July 18, 2013 meeting to be told what those standards are. High River residents are very resourceful and well-experienced in flood recovery, so knowing those standards would have undoubtedly assisted residents in speeding up the recovery process. What are those floodproofing standards?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was that those standards are as of yet unidentified, but are likely to differ on a case-by-case basis.
Associate Minister, standards are benchmarks that all Albertans can be expected to adhere to, should not differ on a case-by-case basis, and through their very existence can help speed up the recovery process. Can you commit to providing at the very least guidelines, or preferably a document detailing floodproofing standards that can be applied across the province, and when can Albertans expect those documents to be made publicly available?
Click here to see the original letter and document.
Doug Griffiths made an announcement that put some people in a tizzy this past week. Some claimed it was insensitive to High Riverites, although I disagree. It's the detail this announcement was missing.
Monday night, people came in droves to the High River Expo at Highwood High School. They left more confused than ever.
I went with one question in mind, the one question that must be answered before anything can be detailed with this new flood-disaster funding policy. How long should we expect to wait until we have updated flood maps that take into account the changes in terrain from this most recent flood?
I first went to the Disaster Recovery Plan booth. They told me to talk to the people at the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) booth. I went there, and asked the same question.
They told me there was no need.
The floodway maps they are currently distributing, and the floodway maps that are on their oh-so-special app on their website are based on regular flood occurences, not the once-a-century floods, and so they should remain accurate.
I call Taurus Excrement.
I asked what would prompt them to start the process of remapping. They said they'd have to be there physically to reassess and see a potential need. I told them I'd save them that step and explain the need to them right now.
Examine the below diagram from ESRD's floodplains map. Running north and south down the center, near the bottom, is a line that seems to divide light red from yellow, meaning it divides flood fringe from no-risk land.
That line is a railroad track berm. Or at least it was.
Observe what remains of that berm.
The representative from the ESRD seemed to understand there may be a need, although somewhat grudgingly. I then asked what the next step would be.
She explained ESRD would need to consult with all the stakeholders, including the railroad company, the town and the province, to see if there was any intent to replace and repair that berm. They'd also have to wait until the municipality asked them to upgrade the flood maps.
And then ...?
And then they'll start the process of updating the maps.
A process before the request process to get a process started. In my mind, not acceptable.
Canadian Pacific Railway owns that track, and hasn't used it for at least 4 years. I'd be surprised if they have any interest in rebuilding it. I won't speak for the town, but I would suggest that they will take quite some time before they start discussing rezoning and building berms, as they have a bit more on their plate right now.
So I translate this to mean months of bureaucracy.
I know this to be the norm for our PC government, but I was hoping for a more common sense approach to our need during this abnormal time.
Here's the deal: if people in Alberta do not know where those flood plains
actually are (not just where some out-of-date map says they are), how can we protect our homes? Nowhere in Alberta is this more frustrating on such a mass scale as in High River.
This isn't just about whether or not we will get Disaster Relief in the future. This is about whether or not our homes and businesses are at risk in the first place. Nobody will build in High River if they can't even be assured of where the floodplains are.
We need to have these maps updated not now, not months from now, but on Sunday, the same day Minister Griffiths made his policy announcement.
Thankfully, Rick Fraser, Associate Minister for the Recovery of High River, was two booths away. So I pulled him aside and asked him about this process before the request process to get the process started. After about 5 minutes of listening to a few talking points, I pulled out my tablet showing him the map above, and he finally clued in. His response; "they will get going on this if I have anything to say about it."
Alright, one small step for one small man, I thought. But just in case, I went to Danielle Smith, my MLA, who was also right beside us. I explained the exact same thing to her.
She shared my sentiment. She said she had heard similar concerns before, although she had not yet heard what ESRD's triple-stage process was like. I told her I spoke to Mr. Fraser. She said "let's wait a couple of days, and be optimistic."
These days I find exercising patience for the sake of optimism much more challenging, and somewhat unnecessary, but I took Smith's suggestion. It is now two days later.
I asked @RickFraserMLA if there was any news, and did not involve Smith because I knew she was in Red Deer for the day. The Government of Alberta's twitter feed @YourAlberta responded instead, telling me that nothing has been started except to make the floodmaps mobile-device accessible. Apparently that will be ready next week.
Priority has been set on making sure I can read this on my cellphone, not whether or not what I'm reading is even accurate or applicable.
So finally, I am pulling my Alberta Party hat out. I have worked hard to avoid doing it, but I cannot any longer, knowing that what we need is not what either the PC government is willing to work for, nor is Danielle Smith going to do as she waits in optimism.
Wearing my Alberta Party hat in the constituency of Highwood, I will work to make sure floodplain maps are updated immediately. You don't need to elect me to do this. I will do it because I know it is needed. We'll start with the Highwood constituency, and then I will continue this work starting at all communities close to the mountains and working our way downstream of each river system in Alberta. We will endeavour to skip the three-stages of process-before-the-request-process-to-start-the-process and get this going right away because we need it in our hands already. If we can't do that, we'll pressure the process to get done faster.
Don't worry, this won't be the only thing the Alberta Party in Highwood works on, as there is a great deal more that needs our common sense input. If you would like to help in this, feel free to join me. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll get this work done so Albertans know what they need to know.
The Alberta Party will make common sense work for you.