There is more work to be done on flood policy

By MPP Toby Barrett

This fall, November didn’t bode well for Lake Erie property owners. To borrow a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “…the gales of November came early.”

The stage was set for devastation with Lake Erie at record highs through much of 2019. This, combined with winds that reached 100 km/h, created a storm surge that reached 1.5 meters on the weekend of Oct. 28. As a result, breakwalls were lost in Haldimand County, houses and businesses were flooded and water submerged roads. Repeat performances followed on Halloween and again Nov. 27.

My staff started fielding calls immediately and have been on the phone ever since.  Don’t hesitate to contact me at 1-800-903-8629 or

The Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance Program is a provincial plan that can help residents and businesses with damages in the case of a disaster. The program is designed for people to contact their municipality and then the municipality asks the province for assistance. The next step in the process is, if deemed necessary, an assessment team will be dispatched to the municipality.

The team then makes a determination if the program will be activated using criteria such as if the storm was sudden, significant damage was done, and the damage was widespread. This is a fact-based decision based on the information gathered, not a political one. If activated, eligible owners of primary residences and businesses can apply. There is also a separate program designed to help municipalities.   An assessment team has been dispatched to both Haldimand and Norfolk Counties.

While all this was happening along the Lake Erie shoreline, special advisor Douglas McNeil was completing his report, “An Independent Review of the 2019 Flood Events in Ontario.” This was one of the actions coming out of a task force, of which I was a member, that examined spring flooding in Muskoka and along the Ottawa River.

Following our consultation, McNeil reviewed the province’s flood management framework with respect to spring flooding, urban flooding, and the Great Lakes.  As part of the review, information sessions were held in seven communities across the province. My staff attended one of these sessions to provide input.

McNeil’s report was released on Nov. 28.  The report contains 66 recommendations to address flooding in Ontario. As it was written before this fall’s storms, the references to Lake Erie are generalized to high water conditions and the fear of damage from fall storms, as well as the flooding that occurred in Chatham-Kent in the summer.

As is evident from recent conversations, there is a misconception about controls on Lake Erie water levels. Although Ontario and New York power authorities can divert more water from flowing over Niagara Falls at night to ease erosion, there is no control over how much water goes into and exits the Niagara River. There is no way to control how much water enters or leaves Lake Erie.

Ontario has a long history of action to keep people and property safe from the impacts of flooding through land use planning policies and mitigation.

It’s not hard to see that flooding, whether it is a result of spring freshet, urban flooding, or Great Lakes water levels is having a growing effect on Ontario.

There is obviously more work to be done to improve flood policy.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk