I will support our Wildrose MLA Wayne Anderson when he does something right, such as his demanding better of the DRP program this past Monday.
But I will not support him when his comments jeopardize our constituency’s chance at being heard by the government.
Such is the case when he told Albertans in Highwood that the NDP are socialists with no business sense. He seemed proud enough of that comment to single it out and share it widely on Facebook.
Firstly, to suggest the NDP have no business experience is ludicrous. 10 MLAs have business backgrounds either as entrepreneurs or as economic advisors and experts. That is if you don’t include lawyers, who may or may not run their own businesses as well, at which point that number would be much higher.
Secondly, the NDP are democratic socialists. There is a significant distinction between that and socialism, and that distinction is the ballot box. Alberta elected a government whose principles of social equality and fiscal equality are paramount. To use the word “socialists” as a dirty word is to say you dislike equality, just as to say “capitalists” as a dirty word is to say you dislike getting what you earn. Personally, I believe in the term “equity”, where you get what you earn, but the system isn’t set up in such a way as to prevent people from having that chance at earning.
But I digress with this oversimplification. The point is that if you are planning on using terms in a derogatory fashion, expect to be shut out of conversations.
And that is where my biggest beef with Mr. Anderson is. By discounting the business experience the NDP have, and derogating the NDP, he risks being ignored by the governing majority NDP for his lack of interest in elevating the level of discourse. He lives up to the moniker “Team Angry”, and will likely be ignored. That’s a problem for Highwood.
Another assertion Anderson put forward was that the NDP did not campaign on economic diversification, and that too is inaccurate. That campaign pledge was number 1.4 in their platform, although the pledge may have been implemented a mite early (they said they’d wait for economic recovery first).
Anderson is right about one thing; the job creation tax credit won’t help those who won’t be able to afford to keep those employees once hired. Further, why wouldn’t I fire someone, change the job title of the vacant position, and rehire them just to get that tax credit? There has to be a better solution.
But that idea will be lost on the NDP. They won’t bother listening to someone who does the equivalent of calling them “damn dirty socialists”.
Insert my support of the Alberta Party, but for those of you who find I’m too prone to Alberta Party rhetoric, I promise to be just as critical this time, so stick with me.
Greg Clark, Alberta Party Leader and MLA in Calgary-Elbow, has shown that he can work with the NDP government. His solutions provide alternatives without derogation. He offered a report card in advance of the budget release, marked the budget, and then offered a solution tabling it yesterday. It is my expectation that if anyone is willing to listen to alternatives, the alternative offered as a collaborative opportunity will be the one listened to.
No other opposition party has done that. With Anderson’s comments, I don’t expect that even if the Wildrose offer an alternative, anybody in the NDP will listen to it.
Now is Clark’s budget perfect? If I use his own report card on the budget, his gets a C+, and seeing as he gave the NDP budget a C- (with which I concur), that is a minor improvement. Chances are, had he opted not for brevity and provided the details behind his choices, he would have had a far higher grade. For details on the differences, see my version of his report card here.
Hang on, didn’t I run as an Alberta Party candidate? Why would I not automatically give the Alberta Party’s budget an Grade A rating?
Like other Alberta Party members, I believe in doing politics differently. I believe in MLAs representing their constituencies first. Greg Clark is doing the same, placing focus on the flood mitigations to Calgary’s benefit, and that should be expected of him. He made a report card based on Calgary-Elbow’s needs first and Alberta Party principles second. My mark is critical because I demand more for Highwood.
I also know Clark isn’t going to hold it against me, or whip me into a party line, simply for the very fact that amenable and constructive dissention IS the party line. It’s how the conversation gets elevated. We, as Alberta Partiers, don’t get angry. We get collaborative.
But you better believe I’ll be upset with someone if they prevent Highwood’s interests from being represented properly. Hopefully Mr. Anderson will be able to rectify it and kindle a working relationship with our government to the benefit of our constituency.
If not, there’s always 2019.
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.
Recently, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ken Hughes announced that, despite former estimates, only 90% of DRP files would be closed at the end of March, 2014. Then he took another step back and said "no wait, not until the end of June, now", which basically means a full year of homelessness for those affected. Not that I'm surprised, he inherited a mess from his predecessor, Doug Griffiths.
However, in order to meet those targets, people who were already told they are going to be covered through the DRP are now being told "nevermind, no money for you."
The best example of this is the first completed DRP file in High River. That file refers to the basement of Richard Murray. On September 23, 2013 he was given approval to go forward with rebuilding his basement in writing. Throughout the next two months, he rebuilt, had inspected, adjusted, continued rebuilding, inspected, and completed his basement all with great collaboration with the DRP office. On November 23, 2013, all paperwork for his claim was considered complete, and he was given every indication that he would be given his funds. He followed all the rules, and worked very closely and collegially with the decision-makers.
On March 11, 2014, Murray got a brief phone call saying that his DRP claim was denied in full. When he asked why, the response was "we have no details for you."
The result is that he will no longer be an Albertan. He will be moving to British Columbia. What's even more telling about this is that he has dedicated decades of his volunteer service to High River, even running for the public service of Town Councillor in the last election. In the end, the Disaster Recovery Program has run this incredibly dedicated community advocate out of town.
Why on Earth, or in Alberta, would the DRP process choose to rip this man's spleen out through his throat like that?
DRP has been changed multiple times since the first files were created. Any file completed before the latest iteration of the DRP process will be referred to a "special review" process. To me, this smacks of duplication; files that were already well-handled are being held back to be looked over one more, two more, seven more times.
If DRP was broken the first time, all those first files will be wrong too, right?
That's not what was broken. The first files completed were the ones done well. Reviewing them added a significantly unnecessary bureaucratic layer. What was broken was the multitude of files that did not get addressed, did not have deadlines met from the government side, and did not get money in a timely fashion to the residents who desperately needed.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, don't fix the pieces that work.
Hughes stepped back from his commitment to complete the DRP process to only complete 90%. Apparently, even that target is so hard to hit, that files that were stuck in the "special review" process were simply too much to handle.
So they called Richard Murray to say "no money for you", with no further details. The only logical conclusion is that they've done so because those details are "we just don't want to handle your file anymore." It's the only way they'll hit that target.
And considering the political turbidity surrounding the PC Party of Alberta right now, they can't afford to miss another target.
How many other High Riverites are going to get the exact same phone call? All the ones who did get their files started early theoretically have been living in relief. Those who did not are the ones who are most in needed of mental health support. Now that the ones who got their files started early are being told they are under "special review", the DRP program is now forcing even those early-starters into mental health disarray.
Just to meet a target, to save a party, to retain power.
If people can't rebuild their basements, homes and businesses, they can't move back. Therefore, they won't shop in High River. They won't open up shop in High River. They won't work in High River. They won't break bread with each other in High River. They won't play in High River. They certainly will have no vested interest in protecting it and rebuilding it for the future.
With this new revelation, I can confidently say High River is dying. And right now, the easiest and most valid scapegoat is the one thing preventing residents, workers, business owners, and community builders from moving back into town.
The Disaster Recovery Program.
So my call to Ken Hughes is to completely shift his position on the completion of the DRP. Not renewing a contract with LandLink is a good decision, but letting them keep the files they've already got is not going to solve the issue of their involvement. The current position is forcing active files to be rammed through, and if necessary cancelled, with little to no consideration for the people and communities they directly affect.
I am asking that Hughes commit to fully fund every Disaster Recovery Program claim as property owners have been promised. I am asking him to completely remove LandLink from the process with no exceptions. I am asking his office take over any remaining outstanding files where no statement of coverage has been offered to the property owner. I am also asking him to add the consideration of these two questions in the completion of those outstanding files;
Lastly, I’m asking that he resist every urge to shift a deadline or target date again. Flood victims need something stable to work with, and the regular shifting of deadlines and target dates leaves them with complete instability.
Or else I fear for the future of my town.
Good news does abound, and while it took a long time, Richard Murray now has received his DRP payments. However, he has some sage advice for all those who have dealt with DRP, and the advice does not end once you've received your cheque. I recommend reading the article here, as it can not be said better than by the man himself.
Back in University, I had adopted the slogan “carpe nocht”. Thinking I was being relatively clever with Horace’s quote “carpe diem” and the approach to life the phrase espouses, the idea of seizing the night became more than what I ever thought it would be. You see, it was really just a way of justifying my desire to party all night long.
Little did I know that I would take it up as a mantra, and have it end up being a metaphor for my life.
You see, to me, December 21 is not the longest night of 2013. Sure, scientists will talk to you about the winter solstice, and they’d be right. But other nights in 2013 have been far longer.
The night following my wife’s diagnosis with pericarditis. That was a bloody long night.
The night after we discovered the piano component of the High River and District Lions Music Festival had a significant scheduling flaw, and I had to review and reschedule 250 entries. That was a very long night.
The night I discovered that I was no longer part of a profession that the Alberta Government was willing to negotiate with. That was a very long night.
One of the longest nights of the year was June 20, a night I spent until 2 AM in the Blackie evacuation centre following one of the most significant events in Canadian history, the 2013 flood. What made it longer was the hour and a half drive to my parents’ place in the dark, wondering what Waterworld looked like. And the thing that made it even longer yet … the dreams I finally had once I did get to a safe and warm bed.
The first night sleeping in my bed in my home in dank- and dead-smelling High River thinking about the thousands who still had no idea when they’d be returning home. That was an incredibly long night.
The night after a massive hailstorm that almost wrote off my car trying to convince my boys they were safe in our home. That was a long night.
The night I learned I had no classroom, and realized I wouldn’t for weeks, maybe months. That was a long night.
The night after a meeting with business people in High River where I learned that one of our more prominent businesses was struggling to make even a tenth of their regular income, 5 months after the flood. That was a long night.
No, December 21 is not a long night. Not even after an intense day of Christmas shopping is December 21 a long night. It does not compare to the Dylan Thomas kind of nights that we avoided going gently into this year.
But through my “carpe nocht” philosophy comes one realization; after each one of these nights came a day. Each day brought new rays of sunshine, new hope.
These days came because we wouldn’t go gently into that good night. My wife was very diligent in her recovery from her heart condition. I rescheduled the piano classes and made everything work for the festival. Teachers kept teaching. I helped wherever I could after the flood. My family, and many other families, worked tirelessly to clean up homes so people could return, and others who haven’t yet are still working hard to do the same. I found a hall to teach in while I waited for a classroom. Business people of High River are not hoping for handouts, they are working to return to success. Even our boys got involved in High River's recovery. In each case, we are all working to see a brighter day.
Then, perhaps after we’ve seized the opportunity that night has given us, we can then seize the day.
So, in this season of hope, I look back at 2013 as a very long night. And 2014 is going to be a very bright day. I know this, because it starts with my brother marrying a wonderful young lady, and the beginning of a new life together brings with it hope for the future.
I wish all of you for whom 2013 was a long night to seize the night and the opportunities it presents. Don’t go quietly into it. Then, having seized the opportunities, may the future days be yours to take.
Carpe nocht et carpe diem.
We are on the road to recovery. People are smiling, reconnecting, and full of hope. Even in the most difficult situations, people don't want to be left wallowing in the flood, so they are trudging forward.
For the life of me, I can't understand why Danielle Smith won't join them.
Tonight, Smith hosts a forum about the forced entries and the gun seizures. She is inviting everyone who had been affected by the questionable RCMP activities to come and share what has happened to them. Everyone except the RCMP.
Alison Redford calls Smith's forum "sensationalizing" the issue. I disagree.
There is nothing sensational about spreading open a wound to pour lemon juice on it.
We need to move on. We can't sit around complaining day after day, because complaining will not put the doors back on their hinges.
If you are concerned with is getting compensated for damages done during the flood, go into the local detachment and get a file going. The RCMP are completing the investigations and gathering all the evidence to support your claims, and once completed will submit the claim to those who would be covering it. Is it taking some time? Yes, but no forum is going to speed it up, especially one where the RCMP haven't been asked to come along.
Certainly if you aren't pleased with how the RCMP acted during the emergency, you should lodge a complaint. Even the RCMP Commissioner has called for one. But there is a forum to do that, and it isn't at Highwood High School.
The first forum is to go to the local detachment and submit a public complaint. But if you are uncomfortable with that idea, then the forum of choice should be the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. If you want to submit such a complaint, do so on their website.
That's it. We didn't need a forum for that. Now let's move on to rebuilding High River for the future.
And if we can't slow this cart down, I may have to sell my house.
The cart, of course, is the massive load of mitigations that we all know must be done if High River is to remain in any state.
The horse is the labor required to pull this load properly and in the right direction. That horse (we'll name him "Informed Decision-Making") in this case should be built upon science, study, experience.
But gravity is ramming that cart up that horse's rear.
The gravity of the situation is that there is massive pressure on government and elected officials to do something, anything, to show that High River will still be standing when the next flood season ends.
Gravity is pushing us downhill. If we can't sort out some way of getting this horse back in charge, we're in serious trouble.
Above you see the latest recommendations from Town Council sent to the provincial government asking for money to do it. Your legend: Navy Blue is a berm. Yellow is a reinforced embankment/berm. Cyan is a dike. Fuschia is a dike. Green is a dike. Orange is a dike. White is the Little Bow Canal.
Let's analyze this, shall we?
If you put a wall up that is perpendicular to the flow of water, that water will stop, spread, and go around it if possible. That's the blue line. So if enough water comes up against that blue berm, it will spill around to the north into Riverside where, because there's a yellow berm in the way, it will have nowhere to drain. It will continue to pool up into a new lake, and my home would be in the middle of it.
The second they approve this is the second I put my home up for sale. But I will not be able to sell it, because anyone with half a brain will be able to figure out that I'm trying to sell a 3-season houseboat.
Further, the blue berm doesn't take into account the fact that the Town has been working on a development encircling the northwest corner of town called "Spitzee Crossing". This blue berm will not only pool up into currently existing residential neighbourhoods, but will negate the possibility of developing Spitzee Crossing.
Maybe that's the point, as that development has been in the works for over a decade, and has been stalled at every opportunity. The development, for that matter, has purposely avoided and given a great big buffer-zone to the Highwood River. It's one development that might actually make sense after the flood.
A further problem with this plan is that it is old. It was presented to the Alberta Government 4 years ago based on 10-year-old flood maps, and rejected. It hasn't changed, it is still built on old flood maps.
When we will get the picture? Nothing is the same!!!
The Town of High River and the M.D. of Foothills has sunk multitudes of taxpayer dollars into developing a cutting-edge piece of software that helps them plan flood mitigations. Not only does it map where water goes now and where it would go if the flows increased, it also gives planners the opportunity to say "what would happen if we put a berm here or a bridge there," and see the results.
But this request was not made in consultation with that software. It was made on old defunct maps.
I want to scream "stop being stupid!"
It's not the first time since the flood that knee-jerk reactions have cause harmful impacts. A Bow River guide explained to me today that the Highwood River, where it dumps into the Bow River, was crystal clear for the first half of August. On August 18, that changed, and it was black with mud.
Just days before, upstream about 20 miles, "scalping" of the riverbanks in High River had begun.
Making new berms, making old berms bigger, and making old dikes deeper, have absolutely no impact on flood control. Using old maps to determine solutions to new problems is like trying to install a carburetor on a Chevrolet Volt.
That same river guide pointed something out to me today. The Mississippi is relatively straight. Downstream of Calgary the Bow River is straight. The Sheep River is relatively straight. They were made that way by floods.
In High River, the Highwood River still "snakes" through town. In town limits alone, it turns 20 times. Why hasn't the flood straightened it out?
Because it hasn't been a fast and powerful flood. It certainly got to High River in a hurry, but once there, it was stopped up, and so the flow wasn't fast enough to actually allow the river to cut a straight line. This has to have happened in every flood for decades, or else the river would be straight today.
So what has existed for decades that has stopped that river up? Bridges. The first one; a railroad bridge whose efficacy at blocking the river is enhanced by a road bridge. That bridge causes the water to back up and spill into downtown every time a few trees gets caught on it. The second one; a new bridge on the Tongue Creek extension known to many as the George Groeneveld bridge. While its impact wasn't as significant, it definitely causes some backup when debris hits it. The third one is east of Aldersyde, where Highway 2 goes over the Highwood River. It got heavily backed up by debris, so much so that it spilled back into the east side of High River.
Bridges act as bottlenecks in the first place. When those bottlenecks get plugged, the water pools back, affecting everything upstream.
If there is an immediate solution that will alleviate issues, it is to fix the bridges. In the case of the rail bridge, get rid of it, it's not even in use anymore. The centre-street road bridge, it needs to be a four-lane road anyway, so raise it up and make it longer. The Highway 2 bridge by Aldersyde needs to be raised and widened so that debris cannot get hung up on it as easily.
If you give the water a place to go without bottlenecks, floods are far less likely to be as devastating. If you berm it in and try to "stop" the water from going somewhere, Mother Nature will just laugh at you as she bulldozes your berm with thousands of cubic meters of water.
Now I'm not the most brilliant hydrologist in the world, but even a layman like me can figure out what's going to happen here.
And the horse is starting to get scared.
We are now passed the cross-roads. It is now over two months since the flood, and less than two months before we have a new Town Council. Very soon, if you haven't already, you'll see the campaigns begin.
Look at what has happened. Basements have been stripped out. Tens of thousands of tonnes of our former lives have been taken to the dump. Infrastructure has been moved, changed, remodelled, and rebuilt. Yes indeed, lots has been done.
However, there are still multitudes who feel like they are being left behind. Landlords, renters, small and mid-sized businesses, and residents who have nothing left and limited coverage are still in limbo.
Yet out of the receding waters comes opportunity. In High River, a building stands empty where a library once stood. An incredible opportunity to rebuild the arts and culture in the town now sits in that empty shell. Schools in town are undergoing slight modifications to better use the space they have. Serious consideration to mitigation efforts is being given, and various roadblocks to getting those completed are being removed.
2 weeks after the flood I saw the "For Sale" signs pop up, and I was worried. Within the past two weeks, many of those "For Sale" signs have been replaced with "Sold" signs, and I am encouraged. My neighbours, two wonderful people I've had the pleasure of sharing a fence with, are moving on, but our new neighbours hale from Calgary, which reminds me that High River, even in it's most significant need, is still a place other people want to live.
Yes indeed, there is opportunity in them waters.
We need clear communication to understand how every action helps our town.
We need decisions to be informed and to fulfill a long-term vision. No more band-aid solutions with short term gains, long-term consequences.
We need to stop doing studies that are already done, and start moving forward.
We need to spend smart. Rather than tear out a road to fix one problem, repave it, and tear it out again months later to fix another that could have been fixed the first time, we need to spend the resources we have in the most efficient way possible.
We need to redevelop all of High River, not just the location of berms. This community is rich in culture, even though there is minimal support for it. The character of our town resides in our Downtown core, and it must be retained. Developments must be smart, forward-looking, and with a 10-year vision, not a re-election vision.
Some people still fear how High River will recover. The answer is "it will". How it recovers is dependent on who leads the recovery. The best parts of democracy start with the right people for the job in the local government.
I've heard time and time again "it won't matter what Council does, because in two years everyone will forget." Do not allow yourselves to forget. Hold Town Council to account. Only then can we have any hope of avoiding June 20, 2013 again.
I implore everyone to really get to know your Town of High River Council candidates. The right people can make this Town a beacon of light in Alberta. The wrong people can cause a flood of problems that we will be managing for decades.
The right people are electable because they will do what's right. The wrong people are electable because they are the loudest.
I believe Richard Murray is one of those "right people". Murray will do what's right. He won't be the loudest, but his background knowledge, his "big picture thinking", and his vision make him the "right person". So while I know he won't be the loudest, I'll be loud for him.
While I've already told you why, I still believe you need to see for yourself, so visit his site at www.voteformurray.ca.
Because I love this town.
We've lost focus. We are talking about the wrong things.
Don't get me wrong, the things we are talking about need to be discussed. Raj Sherman is exactly right asking about how contracts are being distributed. Danielle Smith is exactly right to call for a public inquiry. The PCs are right to get started on mapping and mitigations, they just don't know how to do it.
None of this matters to many Albertans right now.
We must focus on the disaster at hand, and get the recovery taken care of. The PCs aren't getting that job done, but they are right to focus on it.
There are still hundreds of people, maybe thousands, who have no idea where their insurance coverage stops and the Disaster Recovery Program starts. This is not specifically a High River problem, even though they dominate the news. There are people in Exshaw, Bragg Creek, Medicine Hat, Black Diamond and Calgary still in limbo waiting for answers from their insurance company. Companies are not necessarily at fault; they are trying to protect their bottom line, and they do so by saying "the Disaster Recovery Program will cover that for you". But the job of the government is to protect their citizens, and they aren't doing it.
There are still hundreds of people who also have no place to live. Again, this is not specifically a High River problem, although most of the people in this boat live there. However, there are those who live in Exshaw, Bragg Creek, Medicine Hat and Black Diamond who, because they weren't in the floodplain but were rather in the flood fringe or no zone at all, are unable to relocate. Some of those people are unable to build on the former site because, as could be expected with flood waters, the ground their home used to be on is now very far downstream. Soil contamination is preventing homeowners from returning.
An exemplar; George Lane Park, a beautiful park and campground in downtown High River and just on the flip side of a berm from the river, was heavily flooded; at least 6 inches of silt covered the land. Today, grass grows through the silt.
However, if you drive through the northeast end of the town, almost 60 days after the flood, no grass grows. Not even a weed.
You cannot rebuild a home where grass won't even grow, and expect families to let their kids play there.
The Town of High River's Downtown Core is nothing but empty shell after empty shell. If small business doesn't come back right away, there won't be a reason to rebuild High River.
Residents across southern Alberta know they need help transferring from insurance coverage to Disaster Recovery Funding, and many also know they need help determining how to live anywhere when they can't rebuild where they are. And all they are hearing from opposition parties is stuff they couldn't care less about ... yet.
So congratulations PCs, you are focusing on the right thing. However, that's where my congratulations stops.
It's in their best interests to do what they refuse to.
Under the leadership of Doug Griffiths (not Alison Redford, she has been woefully silent on everything), we have seen flood victims treated like children under his "father knows best" mentality.
At a meeting in High River, Griffiths' numerous "I know how you feel" statements showed he knows anything but how High Riverites feel.
When the official Disaster Recovery Program email is shown to have an autoresponder that says "we will not respond to your email" and is admonished for it, Griffiths responds with "It was fixed already. Try to keep up". Yes father, I will understand that even though you did wrong, I should not expect an apology, but rather will be scolded like a child.
My favorite Griffiths quote (insert sarcastic tone here): "taxpayers cannot be on the hook just because you're scared." I now understand that being scared precludes me from being a taxpayer, thanks for the education, Mr. Griffiths.
The problem is that when Griffiths sees a gymnasium stuffed to the point of being called an illegal assembly full of people who are trying to tell him his government is not doing enough, he patronizes them instead of coming up with solutions.
The solutions are easy. They are in the best interests of PCs, just to get the mob to be quiet, if not to actually help them.
Fund an ombudsman who will help individuals with their insurance, and once they're insurance is completed, have that same ombudsman guide them into the Disaster Recovery Process. The sooner people get into the DRP system, the less Mr. Griffiths will have to hear gripe from flood victims because, get this, he has actually helped them.
The only reason the government would not do this is because of the fear of the cost of paying these ombudsmen. I suggest spending a comparatively small amount on the salaries of these ombudsmen, as it will almost definitely save the DRP administrative costs, and will streamline the process, making it more cost effective and efficient.
Adjust the Disaster Recovery Program criteria to help those where rebuilding is simply not an option. Griffiths has already explained that each DRP claim will be treated on an individual basis. Why not just tell these people that if rebuilding is not an option, steps will be taken to either make it an option, or to relocate. Then Mr. Griffiths will not have to hear gripe from these flood victims because, get this, he has actually helped them.
The only reason the government won't do this is because they are afraid that once they start relocating even just one resident, they've set a precedent. It's a more dangerous precedent to make residents feel as though they have no choice but to walk away from everything they've worked for. Once you do that, the government is going to need to start increasing funding for homeless shelters, because that's where all these flood victims will end up.
Do whatever it takes to get small and mid-sized businesses back in their buildings. Intervene on rental/landlord disputes for a temporary time, and get the repair process expedited in business-places immediately. Help retail outlets purchase stock right away, they are already passed the point of ordering for Christmas. Do what it takes.
The only reason the government hasn't done this, as Doug Griffiths has explained, is that they are still focused on residents, and they'll get to businesses later. Not good enough. No business means no residents. He of all people should know this.
It has become obvious that fatherly Doug Griffiths will not listen to the children. He can't see the forest for the floodwaters.
It also became obvious long ago that the Associate Ministers in charge of Recovery and Reconstruction are not in the position to make these decisions, being relegated by the father to the back of the room or even further outside the hall, as was the case with Rick Fraser in High River last week.
So where is the leader of our province in all this? Nowhere. She doesn't run this province. Even when she said "we will return all to what it once was", the rest of her caucus isn't following through with it. She is not leading. Such a shame that she isn't even willing to consider what her late mother's neighbours are suggesting. Even her constituents in Calgary-Elbow can't get in touch with her. I wonder if the PCs will be willing to allow a non-leader to allow the caucus to continue to run amok?
I hope she steps up to the plate. She needs to show up to her own party. But she needs to do it now, because we're starting to lose focus on the needs of right now.
Through the Associate Minister Responsible for Regional Recovery and Reconstruction in High River Rick Fraser, I've been pressing for details on what's next for Albertans affected by the flood. Sunday, 38 days after the flood, most answers came.
Yet today, 40 days after the flood, there are still High River residents falling through the cracks in the foundation.
Refer to my letter to Fraser identifying the details Albertans needed. The only question remaining completely outstanding is that of the Disaster Recover Program Loophole. If the Disaster Recovery Program is the foundation upon which we "rebuild Alberta", then residents in the Hamptons of High River (and a few in other areas) are falling through the cracks in that foundation.
Hamptons residents are not in a flood plain or fringe zone. Therefore, according to the Disaster Recovery Program, if they want to be able to get help from the Government in the event of a future flood, they have to floodproof. And let's face it, where the water has gone, the water will go again.
This assumes, of course, that the Hamptons residents CAN stay, and therefore can choose to floodproof or not. It provides nothing for them if they CAN'T stay.
While everyone else was already allowed back in, people in the Hamptons and one area of Sunrise were given an escort into their homes, and 15 minutes maximum to collect their most precious things. Two days later, they were allowed back in.
I was there helping out a friend of mine. The stench of the entire community was sickening. I drive a Honda Fit, a car that can park in those tiny spots that nobody else considers in the parking lot, and there was so much activity I couldn't even drive through. People had obviously been waiting for this moment, and every helper and volunteer they could get was there.
Residents could see it; the reason it took so long to get them home. It is a massive berm that runs along 2nd Avenue. Certainly creating that berm in the middle of Lake Hampton would have been no small feat. But creating that berm meant everyone south of it could have the Lake pumped out, and everyone north of it, including the Hamptons and one area of Sunrise, would be sacrificed. Water out of the south end would be pumped into the backyards, basements, and sewage systems of the Hamptons. While the flood caused the water to be there, the extent of the damage was due to being bermed in; a man-made solution.
For interest's sake, those who made decisions during the emergency phase never admitted to sacrificing the Hamptons. In fact, they never received that admission until last Friday, 37 days after the flood, 34 days after the decision to sacrifice, and only in a very closed-door meeting (which I was invited to, but not allowed in because I was not a resident of a small area known as Hamptons Commons).
Ask almost any resident in the Hamptons and Sunrise, and they'll tell you they understand the need to be sacrificed. They are the few, and the Central and Southeast areas of High River was the many. In fact, some residents will even tell you they were proud to have their homes selected for sacrifice to save the town they love.
Approximately 48-hour of straight labour with that berm looming over them later, Alberta Health Services came around and told people to leave their homes, labelling them "Not Fit for Human Habitation", whether it be for structural or mould problems. Many AHS assessors didn't even come in the front door, unless they were forced to do so by a contractor working on their clients behalf. The vast majority of those who got the NFH designation were never told what to do or what to expect next.
Nobody has told the Hamptons residents why it took so long, although they have figured it out for themselves. Nobody had told them what the next step was, except to sign up for a Disaster Recovery Program whose criteria never applied to them. None of the litany of assessors that have been around are giving any details as to what needs to be done next.
One resident gets frustrated enough to bring in his own structural engineer. The recommendation by that independent engineer was to bulldoze.
Another resident gets frustrated enough to bring in his own mould specialist. This specialist explains that he had seen marijuana grow ops in better shape than this Hamptons house, and they were bulldozed.
A resident of Sunrise, a very well-respected landscaper, explains that to get rid of the soil contamination from sewage, chemicals left in garages that will have spilled into the Lake, and other leaching effects, they may need to strip the entire community down to the clay. One look at the vegetative death in the community that has shown no signs of recovery weeks after Lake Hampton was gone, and its hard to not agree with him.
The residents are getting a pretty good picture of what's going to happen. They can't afford to raise their families or live in a home with structural problems, mould contaminating both the inside and outside, and sewage-ridden soil. They can't afford to stay. There is no choice for them, they must move. And that leaves their neighbours who think they might be able to stay wonder why they'd stay in a community with no community. Finally the phrase "property values" is mentioned. And as the Disaster Recovery Program is announced, they also realize that their situation is exacerbated by the fact the criteria don't even fit them.
Take a peek at these photos. The photography is beautiful, the subject material is spirit-breaking. This is a typical Hamptons home. This is a typical sacrificial lamb.
And the foundation for "rebuilding Alberta", the Disaster Recovery Program, is telling these people they must stay. There is no coverage for stripping the soil to the clay. There is no amount of remediation that could correct both the structures and the mould. Even a rebuild is not an option.
In prances Tervita, fresh off a $45 million contract with the Province of Alberta, here to save the day. Even though they just finished refurbishing the Saddledome in Calgary, they haven't got enough employees to do the job, so they hold a job fair to hire High Riverites. They're ONLY mandate; remediate.
Hamptons residents are told to register with Tervita (after already having had to register with Red Cross, Emergency Operations Centres, the Volunteer Centre, their Insurance Companies, and Alberta Health Services). They're told within 24 hours they'll get a call, and within 48 hours of that an assessor will come out. Nope and nope. 9 days after Tervita was awarded the contract, the Hamptons still looked as if Tervita had only been around for a day. It was still deserted.
It's an eery feeling driving through that neighbourhood that just a week ago had so much activity I couldn't drive my subcompact car through it.
The homeowners expect to see seasoned experts come and assess, and so are surprised when they find the assessors coming are much younger than they. One pair of assessors go in saying it will take them about 90 minutes, and come out 19 minutes later with puffy eyes and shortness of breath.
On Friday, July 26 at 1 PM, Tervita met with some of the Hamptons owners. They were given a sheet of paper with a fill-in-the-blank statement giving the Queen, the Town of High River and Tervita access to their homes and to strip whatever they decided they needed to strip. No letterhead, and no other paperwork indicating what assessments had been done to show work was even required. Residents asked what was going to be stripped. Residents asked what chemicals would be used to deal with mould. Residents asked who the engineer was in charge of the job. No answers came. So the residents didn't sign.
I wouldn't have signed either. It sounds almost like an unsavoury car mechanic trying to convince me that it cost $200 to put a plug in a door panel.
Then the proverbial gun-to-the-head: those residents who said they wouldn't sign were immediately told that if they didn't, the Government wouldn't help them, and they were on their own.
A meeting with Danielle Smith, and she gathers many notes and starts pounding the pavement with insurance providers who are still giving residents the run-around, pressing for the Government to reconsider their stance on the Hamptons in light of the fact they were sacrificed, and keeping track of the charlatan contractors that come around.
Smith, for her part, has done very well by the Hamptons. But even she, at that meeting, admitted there was only so much she could do.
So, indeed, as promised by Tervita, the Hamptons residents are on their own. This is why you saw them at a protest in front of Alison Redford's office in Calgary. They had no problem going, as they have no home to work on, and for many of them their businesses are also on standby due to the flood.
Work through the Governments formula for Disaster Recovery Funding, and you'll find that the average Hamptons home would cost only $10,000 less to rebuild than it would to simply buy them out. And that doesn't even include the soil, loss of property value, and the fact that the community will be, as a colleague of mine stated, a "Swiss Cheese" community. All value, either financial, physical or community-based, is gone in the Hamptons, and the owners know it was because they were sacrificed.
Don't you think that they deserve a bit better than 40 days with only half-measures and no answers?
More follow-up on the questions I posed to Fraser.
On July 18, 2013 there was a Flood Information Night that left many scratching their heads. I posted some questions as a summary of what we needed to know. The status of those questions is as follows;
Flood Maps - A flood mitigation panel has been set up, one that is supposed to solicit the experience of everyday Albertans who go through floods on a regular basis. Contact information for them is outstanding, as is a timeline for when to expect the maps to be updated by.
Insurance Complaints - Detailed procedures for how to manage this have been documented, and Danielle Smith in particular has been working hard on this, but in many cases complaints still arise. It is for this reason, as well as the confusion behind the purpose Tervita has in High River and the Disaster Recover Program, that I have called on Premier Redford for employ an "Event-Specific Ombudsman". With a person in that role, those with continuing challenges of various sorts with their coverage can have those challenges fixed faster, and therefore they can get back home faster.
Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Not provided, although details on the formula for coverage has been released.
Mortgages - The Government has asked for all renewal and foreclosure activity to stop for the time being. Also, the Government has started to institute the Floodway Designations on the Land Titles for those who have been affected. This recommendation came from the 2006 Flood Report. The jury is still out as to whether or not that will protect homeowners from issues in the real estate market, or make it harder for them to sell. In many cases, I think protection is what it will achieve.
Floodproofing Standards - The Government, yesterday, released the details every Albertan needs to figure out how to prepare their homes best. They call them the "Minimum Individual Flood Mitigation Measures". I call them Floodproofing Standards. Either way, details on what floodproofing looks like have been announced, and this is good news for everyone.
The floods in late June of 2013 were unlike anything our province has every experienced before. It should come as no surprise that challenges and conflict arise when our livelihoods are at risk. The most recent communication between residents of High River and Heather Mack, Director of Government Relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, received from @okotoksNow is a great example of one set of challenges that we must face.
Insurance Providers are expected to be, in the common vernacular, "the good guys". We rely upon our Insurance Provider in times when we need it most, and we expect them to come and "save the day". When this doesn't happen, it is no surprise we leave the interaction very wounded.
It is obvious from this communication and the nature of the forum at the Flood Information Night on July 18, 2013, and many other meetings I’ve had since across Southern Alberta, that there are some very wounded people as a result of confusion with regards to insurance. There is a lot of uncertainty as to what is supposed to be covered, what impact independent adjusters have, why some receive coverage and others don't, what procedures are appropriate for adjusting a claim, and other issues of communication.
The Alberta Party endeavours to focus on common sense solutions, and believes it can govern this way. One such solution that would best serve Albertans is to appoint an independent Event-Specific Ombudsman, paid for through the Disaster Recovery Program, selected by the Superintendent of Insurance in Alberta, and given a strict set of parameters in their job description. Those parameters would include meeting with those who experience confusion with their insurance policies and helping to educate those individuals as to what their policies cover; assisting individuals in claims appeals processes where necessary; educating and advising individuals as to what the next steps should be once the claim process has been completed (whether covered or not) including Disaster Recovery Program applications.
Individuals with insurance questions remain in limbo. Any effort the Alberta Government makes in helping individuals through the insurance process and into the Disaster Recovery Program processes means less limbo for residents. It also means less overall cost on the Disaster Recovery Program; the sooner residents receive the assistance they need, the less cost they will need to incur to return to normal. The cost of employing an Event-Specific Ombudsman would easily be made up in the savings in reconstruction, should that reconstruction happen sooner rather than later when the destruction is even worse. It only makes sense to help this process get completed quickly.
Certainly changes to the Insurance industry is not a common sense solution. While competition within the industry is one reason why there are such varied issues, it is also a way of ensuring the best services are available to Albertans. An insurance company who treats its clients poorly and does not make appropriate coverage affordable will not likely be retained following this flood. What is needed, therefore, is a method of speeding the recovery process.
Flood victims need to get through this recovery process quickly. Their livelihood and Alberta's economy depends upon it. It is easily seen in the best interests of residents, Insurance Providers and the Province to go through these processes quickly and efficiently. The Alberta Government is in the perfect position to make this happen.
As a member of the Alberta Party in the Highwood constituency, I have written this letter to our Premier, the Honourable Alison Redford, asking her to work with the Insurance Industry by funding the appointment of an Event-Specific Ombudsman to effectively complete the insurance claim process for those affected by the flood. This will help the Alberta Government show to Albertans how much they truly value rebuilding Alberta after the flood.