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Canada: Don’t expect a bailout if you build in a flood zone

As the winter snowpack melts and fears of spring flooding rise, Canada’s public safety minister Ralph Goodale has a “tough message” for municipalities, homeowners and businesses: build in a flood zone and you could be on your own.

“At some point, you’re going to have to say if people ignore the knowledge base and deliberately rebuild in danger zones, they are going to have to assume their own responsibility for the cost burden,” Goodale said Thursday.

READ MORE: After declaring climate emergency, Kingston city staff aim to prevent flooding

Goodale made the comments in Ottawa when asked by Global News if there’s anything the federal government can do to stop municipalities from building in areas at high risk of flooding.

“After it’s happened once and then twice, and then three times, at some point the taxpayer’s patience runs out,” he said. “So there’s that clear message that has to be delivered.”

READ MORE: ‘Fingers crossed’: Flood fears recede but drought fears rise amid lower B.C. snowpack

And according to Goodale, it’s municipalities that need to heed this message most.

“The right zoning decisions need to be taken,” Goodale said.

“That takes a good deal of local political courage because you’re often talking about some of the most attractive places in which to build,” he said.

“So that’s a bit of a tough message, but you can’t repeatedly go back to the taxpayer and say; oh, it happened again.”

‘Bold decisions’ to deal with flooding

While much of the funding for disaster relief and emergency management comes from the federal government, the decision to build in areas prone to flooding is “largely within the jurisdiction of provinces and municipalities,” Goodale said.

Whether to rebuild in these areas after flooding is also up to municipalities, and according to Goodale, this “very serious issue” is something communities across Canada will increasingly have to deal with as climate change takes hold and as the threat of flooding grows.

WATCH: New Brunswick officials issue warnings as water levels rise

Goodale points to High River, Alta., which in June 2013 experienced devastating flooding with billions of dollars in damage, as an example of the type of decision making that’s needed to protect homes — and by extension, government finances — from the catastrophic effects caused by flooding.

READ MORE: Pierrefonds officials handing out flood prevention flyers ahead of warming weather

According to Goodale, the community made the tough decision not to rebuild in the most high-risk areas after the 2013 floods.

“Other municipalities have not taken those bold decisions,” he said.

In addition to making “bold decisions,” Goodale said communities across Canada are benefiting from federal infrastructure spending targeted at flood relief. And while the Liberals have committed up to $2 billion to such programs, Goodale admits far more will be needed in the future.

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