Despite having worked in Manitoba on flooding issues throughout my career, I was unfamiliar with the complex policy framework for flood management in Ontario. Understanding the various roles of agencies involved including the federal government, municipalities, conservation authorities and individual provincial ministries as well as the policies and technical guidance was of utmost importance to the review process.

2.1 Documents and other information

The Ministry provided a number of documents to enable an understanding of the current policy framework for flood management. These included:

  • Provincial acts, regulations and policies associated with flood management;
  • Technical guidelines prepared by the Province to support municipalities and conservation authorities in managing flooding and other natural hazards;
  • Information related to floodplain mapping, disaster relief, funding, insurance, and natural infrastructure; and
  • Information on water management in the Muskoka River and Ottawa River watershed and Great Lakes

I was also provided with a summary of feedback received from both the spring listening sessions and the online flood survey. The Minister’s office provided me with correspondence that he received that was directed at my review. A detailed listing of materials reviewed can be found in Appendix A.

2.2 Engagement and site tours

While information provided by the Ministry was helpful in providing context for my evaluation, further engagement was warranted to ensure a full review.

I first met with Minister Yakabuski to ensure a clear understanding of my mandate and the importance of this review to the people of Ontario. He underscored the devastating impacts being felt across the province from flooding and the need for the Province to help citizens and ensure their safety in the future.

I also met with Conservation Ontario, Ontario Power Generation, the Ministries of Environment Conservation and Parks, and Municipal Affairs and Housing to get a better understanding of their roles in water management. The purpose of these meetings was to provide additional background and context to the current policies and responsibilities for flood management within the province.

Through these dialogues, and in reviewing the background information provided by the Ministry, I realized the importance of visiting some of the areas hardest hit by flooding. This was necessary to appreciate the diversity in geographies and issues, and to hear firsthand from people in those areas about the impacts experienced and potential solutions.

Working with the Ministry, a nine-day community tour over two weeks in early September was developed to highlight the variance in issues, geographies and responsibilities. Tour stops included a mix of:

  • Agency meetings;
  • Municipal and conservation authority roundtables; and
  • Guided tours of locally impacted areas.

In selecting the tour locations, it was acknowledged that the size of the province and the number of communities that experienced flooding would make it impossible to visit every area that has been impacted. Representative locations were chosen to provide a mix of riverine, lake, urban and Great Lakes flooding context, with the clear understanding that impacts are being felt across the province, not just in these areas specifically. In the vast majority of cases, meeting locations were chosen within a two-hour drive of the municipalities targeted for engagement.

Participation in municipal engagement sessions targeted municipalities that:

  • Declared flood-related states of emergencies in 2019;
  • Represented areas that had been approved for provincial disaster recovery assistance;
  • Had requested meetings with the Minister to discuss flooding and/or high-water levels;
  • Had contacted the Ministry asking for an opportunity to meet with the Special Advisor; or
  • Were known to have experienced major flood events in the last few years.

The first set of community tours took place in the Ottawa, Pembroke and North Bay areas.

During the two-day visit to Ottawa, I met with the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, the International Joint Commission, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and the local MPP for Kanata—Carleton. I hosted a municipal roundtable meeting with Ottawa area MPPs, municipal officials and staff, and conservation authority general managers. I toured the areas of Britannia, Constance Bay, Rhoddy’s Bay, Westmeath and Braeside, all significantly impacted by flooding in the spring of 2019.

In Pembroke, I held a municipal roundtable discussion with a wide area of eastern Ontario municipal officials and met with a concerned citizens group. I toured the flood-impacted areas of Pembroke, Deux-Riviere and Mattawa, and discussed the characteristics of the Ottawa River at Klock with Ontario Power Generation, which contributes to the highly complex management challenges of the river.

In North Bay, I met with the local conservation authority and hosted a roundtable meeting with local municipal officials, the MPP for Nipissing, the federal government and local First Nation representatives to discuss the challenges associated with managing the river systems in their area.

During the second week of my community tours, I visited Toronto, Muskoka, Cambridge and London.

In Toronto, I spent a day with one of the local conservation authorities. They provided me with an overview of the issues they deal with in their highly urbanized watershed, and we toured the high flood risk neighbourhood of Rockcliffe and the projects under way along the lower Don River floodplain. While in Toronto, I also hosted a day of meetings with stakeholders, agencies, ministers and MPPs. I met with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Hon. Steve Clark; the Minister of Environment Conservation and Parks, the Hon. Jeff Yurek; and a Greater Toronto Area MPP. I met with two branches from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry—Mapping and Surface Water Monitoring as well as Emergency Management Ontario, which falls under the purview of the Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management within the Ministry of the Solicitor General. I also met with representatives from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the City of Toronto, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Collaborative, the Regional Public Works Commissioners, and the Electrical Safety Authority.

In the Muskoka area, I met with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry District of Parry Sound and Bracebridge Area staff to understand their role in managing water in the Muskoka and Magnetawan watersheds, and held a municipal roundtable meeting in Huntsville with central Ontario municipal officials, the local MPP for Parry Sound— Muskoka, and a stakeholder group.

In Cambridge, I met with the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation out of the University of Waterloo, and hosted a municipal roundtable meeting with municipal officials, area conservation authority management and local MPP staff from the surrounding area. I met with the local conservation authority, and toured flood-prone areas in and around Cambridge and Brantford.

In London, I toured the area of Port Stanley, along the shoreline of Lake Erie, to get an appreciation of the height of the lake, but unfortunately was not able to see firsthand any shoreline erosion. I met with local conservation authority staff to discuss their role in local water management and hosted a municipal roundtable with southwestern Ontario municipal officials and area conservation authority managers.