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date: 20 October 2018

Natural Hazards Governance in Canada

Summary and Keywords

The responsibility for hazard governance in Canada is indirectly determined by the division of subjects in the Constitution Act of 1867. This is because emergency management is not a distinct constitutional subject, and therefore it is a matter of assessing which subjects are most related to the practices of emergency management. As a result of this uncertainty both the provincial and federal governments have emergency management legislation. The various provincial legislation and the federal Emergencies Act of 1988 are primarily focused on providing for the use of extraordinary powers as part of crisis response. The federal Emergency Management Act 2008 does take a more comprehensive approach that includes hazard mitigation, but its reach only extends to federal departments.

The governance tools most applicable to hazard management, such as land-use planning and zoning, are normally found within the Provinces’ planning or municipal legislation. The planning legislation empowers local authorities to manage development and its interaction with the natural environment. However, these powers are seldom directed towards hazard mitigation. If there is a reference to natural hazards in the planning legislation it is usually to specific risks, such as flooding or slope failure, that are spatially bounded risks to development.

This separation of hazard governance in the legislation is reflected in local government practices. In most provinces emergency managers are not required by their respective legislation to incorporate hazard mitigation into community emergency programs. The planning legislation, however, seldom extends the community planner’s mandate for mitigation beyond the concerns for safe building sites and the separation of incompatible land uses. The responsibility to prevent human development from interacting with the extremes of the natural environment, or more succinctly “hazard governance,” is not clearly assigned in Canada.

Keywords: hazard, mitigation, planning, law, federal, provincial, emergency, management

Overview of Canadian Hazard Governance

Hazard governance in Canada is fractured into many pieces. This is the result of Canada’s historical development as a federation and its diverse geography. There are differences between the federal government’s approach and those of each province as well as between provinces. There are further differences between mitigation methods and incident-driven response and recovery activities. Dissimilarities in the hazards facing communities across Canada and how they are managed also influence practices. To understand how hazards are managed in Canada it is necessary to connect these many pieces together.

First it is important to understand how Canadian federalism works as it defines the roles of the provincial governments and the government of Canada. This relationship spans all activities in Canada and, in the case of emergency management, the relationship has changed over the decades. Therefore, a brief history of the development of emergency management is useful to explain the wider relationship as well as contextualize the past and current legislation.

The different hazards in Canada receive varying degrees of attention from governments at all levels. Sometimes this reflects a hazard’s particular characteristics, such as the frequency of its occurrence, while other times it may relate to which level of government has jurisdiction over the area or the issue. This is especially true of technological hazards—such as train derailments, aircraft accidents, or events involving hazardous substances—that are even more likely to be regulated by a web of federal and provincial laws. This leads to an inconsistent approach to hazard governance across the country, although there have been efforts to standardize emergency response practices.

Canada’s direct experience with disasters from natural hazards is also limited. While the country has experienced numerous tragic events, it has not had a truly defining disaster. Some nations can identify specific events that changed the course of emergency management in their history, such as the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the United States, but Canada has not had a disaster that can be as easily linked to abrupt changes in governance practices.

With that said, Canada has adapted over the years in reaction to disasters and policy developments that have occurred around the world. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States had a direct effect on Canada’s national organizational arrangements while Canada’s ongoing participation in United Nations activities including its commitment to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (Public Safety Canada, 2017) will continue to influence its approach to hazard mitigation into the future.

In the decade following September 11, 2001, the government of Canada worked in concert with the provincial emergency management agencies to adopt an all-hazards, comprehensive approach to emergency management. While this new Emergency Management Framework for Canada (Public Safety Canada, 2011) was developed and agreed to by the federal and provincial ministers to provide a common approach that includes hazard mitigation, none of the provinces have made significant changes to their respective legislation to enhance hazard governance.

As is the case in many countries, emergency management in Canada grew from its origins in civil defense to come to employ a more comprehensive set of practices related to natural and technological hazards. However, the focus on response activities continues to dominate the emergency management legislation in Canada. It is necessary to also consider the land-use planning and other hazard-specific pieces of legislation and policy to properly frame the hazard governance issues as they are often distinct from the response-oriented emergency management legislation.

Natural hazard governance in Canada is spread across two jurisdictional levels, the federal and provincial, and primarily across two governance issues: namely emergency management and land-use planning. For the most part natural hazard governance falls to the provincial/land-use planning quadrant of the resulting matrix of relevant legislation. Some provinces may also have legislation relating to a specific hazard such as flooding that need to be considered in conjunction with the land-use legislation.

Technological hazards, such as the transportation of hazardous substances, are addressed by the jurisdiction that has the regulatory power over that technology and by sector-specific legislation. The range of issues relating to a technological hazard impact can be very broad. Such was the case of the 2013 train derailment, oil spill, and explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB, 2014) investigated the transportation element of the event, while federal and provincial environment departments considered the oil contamination (PMO, 2013); provincial agencies consulted on recovery and remediation issues (BAPE, 2017). Therefore, the scope of this entry is limited to the governance of natural hazards.

Canadian Context

Canada’s earliest European inhabitants, with the help of the indigenous people of Canada’s many First Nations, struggled to survive cold winters. Jacques Cartier’s settlement at Stadacona, Quebec, barely lasted through the winter of 1535–1536. As European explorers worked their way westward across what became Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, settlements were established along the navigable waterways then endured high flood waters. As a result, many of Canada’s current urban centers, such as Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Calgary, Alberta, are located on floodplains.

As Canada became a nation and its settlements grew into cities, the threat of urban conflagration increased. Some earlier communities had been damaged by wildfires in the surrounding forests; but by the mid-19th century the main concern was structural fires spreading through congested city streets. Montreal, Quebec, had several large fires, with the Great Fire of 1852 causing the most damage. Similar large urban fires destroyed the downtown area of Saint John, New Brunswick, in June 1877; Vancouver, British Columbia, in June 1886; and Calgary, Alberta in November of that same year. The 20th century started with a fire in Hull, Quebec, that spread across to Ottawa, Ontario, and devastated much of both cities. Toronto, Ontario, lost a significant portion of its lakefront downtown to a fire in April 1904.

Such was the hazard landscape of Canada at the beginning of the 20th century. Winter storms would occasionally paralyze the prairies with blizzard conditions. Avalanches, such as the rockslide that buried much of Frank, Alberta, in 1903, impacted on the connection between Canada’s Pacific coast and the rest of the young nation while floods and fires threatened many urban areas. The immediate impacts of these disasters were dealt with by the residents: The fire departments of the day were little more than local volunteers themselves. The consequences of the events were longer lasting. The urban fires led to more stone construction and wider streets to prevent the spread to neighboring buildings. Flooding pushed some communities to seek higher ground where possible. The traces of these early hazards are embedded in Canada’s communities and laid the foundation for the nation’s approach to hazard management.

The other significant historical influence was the British North America Act passed in 1867 by the British Parliament. In Canada the responsibility to manage different issues is assigned to the provinces by the Constitution Act of 1867 (UK, 30 & 31 Victoria, c 3). The Constitution Act, in Part VI: Distribution of Legislative Powers, sets out the roles and responsibilities of the federal government and the provinces. Section 91 lists those responsibilities assigned to the federal government, and section 92 reserves other responsibilities for the provinces although “in a special emergency then, provincial powers can be overridden for the peace, order and good government of Canada as a whole” (Marx, 1970, p. 61).

Hoping to avoid the turmoil that the United States faced through its Civil War, the Canadian Constitution includes two sections that identify the broad classes of activities that will be the responsibility of the provincial governments and federal parliament. The distinction between the two sets of powers is clear, and the residual power to address activities that were not specifically named rests with the federal government’s obligation to ensure the nation’s peace, order, and good governance. However, this creates a “highly decentralized federation with diverse regional interests, in which the subnational (provincial) governments fiercely protect their autonomy and resist federal power” (Henstra, 2017, p. 378).

Overall, emergency management sits in a gray area between the federal and provincial powers in Canada. It is similar to (and overlaps with) how the environment is managed in Canada (Scott, 2017) in the sense that it is only through related activities that the jurisdiction is determined. There are also aspects of emergency management relating to international affairs, including treaties and terrorism, and the broad interpretation of the government of Canada holding the residual powers granted by the “Peace. Order and good Governance” wording in the Constitution Act of 1867 (UK, 30 & 31 Victoria, c 3).

Management of hazards derived from human industry and technology is also split between federal and provincial jurisdictions. The parliamentarians of the 1860s could not have foreseen the speed and breadth of technological advance that was to come in the 20th century. They did, however, recognize that some activities had national implications. Section 92 (10) gives the power to oversee local works to the provinces except for those that extend beyond the province’s border, such as “Railways, Canals, Telegraphs” (S92(10)(a)), and those that are deemed to be “for the general Advantage of Canada” (S92(10)(c)). This has come to include aviation, all aspects of telecommunications and other activities such as the transportation of dangerous goods where it makes sense that there is a high degree of consistency for those providing services across multiple provinces.

Fortunately, the separation of responsibilities becomes more distinct when it comes to the powers necessary to regulate development in order to reduce risk. Unlike the murkier issue of emergency response measures, the responsibility to manage local matters such as property rights and municipal institutions under normal conditions is clearly given to the provinces. This includes the creation of smaller local government jurisdictions that go by a variety of names in Canada—county, municipality, township, canton, community, village, town, city—but can be generally referred to as local or municipal governments. It is from this point, building on a few earlier attempts, where the provinces began to create laws establishing local governments with the primary purpose of regulating local land use and providing property services: “Local governments were conceived in the need to provide to residences and places of business such services as roads, water and fire protection” (Hodge, 1986, p. 116). At that time local governments required provincial approval for plans and so, a century ago, provinces began to pass legislation empowering local authorities to develop and implement land-use schemes.

Regulating the new development of land, including roads and other infrastructure, was the first task for local governments and then zoning was introduced to prevent complaints of nuisance, where adjoining property owners were in conflict over the incompatible use of their land. Hodge (1986) went on to state that other local concerns, such as environmental pollution, may also be a driving factor and briefly addresses the influence of urban conflagration on planning practices. However, despite these tangent concerns, the conspicuous omission of any concern for community safety in these principles (beyond “well drained” residential areas) is further evidence that a connection between planning and emergency management has been missing (Britton & Lindsay, 1995). Putting aside the lack of consideration of hazards for the moment, the current planning legislation in the provinces contain approaches that can be applied to hazard management without too much alteration or fanciful interpretation. These approaches lie in the often-overwhelming volume of planning laws and regulations.

In parallel to the land-use legislation, the provinces and territories also have emergency management legislation. These acts were first introduced following World War II and drew heavily on the federal regulations passed at that time (Lindsay, 2014). This emergency management legislation is relatively uniform across the provinces, and these various acts share an emphasis on planning for emergency responses and on the extraordinary powers granted to elected officials under declared emergencies. The emergency management legislation tends to avoid requiring or even mentioning hazard governance. The main exception is Quebec’s Civil Protection Act (R.S.Q., c S-2.3) and the federal Emergency Management Act (SC 2007, c 15).

A review of Canada’s natural hazard governance must therefore include a scan of both planning and emergency management legislation at the provincial as well as a discussion of the government of Canada’s efforts on the national stage. The integration of community planning and the hazard governance aspects of emergency management has been recognized for decades in the disaster studies literature, but its practical implementation and legislative codification remain in the early stages in Canada.

Government of Canada

As a result of the constitutional division of responsibilities, hazard mitigation is more of an advocated policy than a core activity at the federal government level. Even though there are some requirements for hazard mitigation in federal legislation, and this is reinforced though policy and in specific programs, the community-planning tools associated with hazard mitigation are in the hands of the provinces: “The Government of Canada has substantial resources and strong economic incentives to mitigate local disaster losses, but lacks the administrative apparatus to implement mitigation unilaterally” (Henstra & McBean, 2005, p. 312). Hazard mitigation is a clear component of the government of Canada’s approach to emergency management, but it is difficult to cast it as a priority given the slow progress and lack of resources.

The Emergency Management Act (SC 2007, c 15) is the federal legislation that directs the emergency management activities of the government of Canada. It does not give the federal government the ability to do more than influence provincial decision makers. However, using this influence is actually an obligation of the federal minister of public safety. The Emergency Management Act makes the minister “responsible for exercising leadership relating to emergency management in Canada by coordinating, among government institutions and in cooperation with the provinces and other entities, emergency management activities” (s3) where emergency management is considered to be “the prevention and mitigation of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from emergencies” (s2).

This overall responsibility for leadership is linked to several of the eighteen specific tasks assigned by the act to the minister of public safety, and thus to the federal government’s Public Safety Canada department, including the following sections:

  1. (f) coordinating the activities of government institutions relating to emergency management with those of the provinces—and supporting the emergency management activities of the provinces—and through the provinces, those of local authorities; . . .

  2. (h) coordinating the provision of assistance to a province in respect of a provincial emergency, other than the provision of financial assistance . . . [and]

  3. (o) promoting a common approach to emergency management, including the adoption of standards and best practices; (s4[1]).

It is through these activities, such as establishing a common approach or creating funding programs, that the federal government can sway provincial and local decisions. This influence can carry significant weight when it is tied to transfers from federal budgets to provinces in connection to programs or other assistance.

The federal government’s main contribution to natural hazard mitigation, in keeping with its constitutional role, is the development, adoption, and funding of the National Disaster Mitigation Strategy (NDMS) (Public Safety Canada, 2008). The NDMS was developed in consultation with the provinces and other stakeholders. This occurred over a decade (Hwacha, 2005) that was punctuated by several significant events including the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the subsequent organizational restructuring that led to the creation of Public Safety Canada, and the passing of the Emergency Management Act with its subsidiary policies and guides. It was also influenced by several significant natural hazard impacts including some of Canada’s larger floods, such as the 1996 Saguenay flood in Quebec and the 1997 Red River flood in Manitoba, the 1998 ice storm in eastern Canada, Hurricane Juan’s impact in 2003, and other events across Canada during the period. Later impacts, including the 2013 flooding across southern Alberta, the Slave Lake and Fort McMurray interface wildfires, and greater attention to Vancouver’s seismic risk (brought on by news of overseas earthquakes including the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan in 2011), have combined to further heighten risk awareness and have led the government of Canada to acknowledge the benefits of hazard mitigation.

The National Disaster Mitigation Strategy is essentially a governance agreement between the federal and provincial governments. It sets out four elements: leadership and coordination; public awareness, education, and outreach; knowledge and research, and Federal-Provincial-Territorial Cost-Shared Mitigation Investments (Public Safety Canada, 2008) that are not particularly unique to hazard mitigation. Much of the document is, in fairness, an attempt to clarify the shared responsibility for mitigation between the three levels of government in Canada in light of the constitutional assignment of the related activities.

There are few statements that expand on what mitigation is or how the four elements may be achieved. One positive example of setting a clearer direction is under section 2.1: Leadership and Coordination, which establishes that federal-provincial-territorial ministers will “engage municipalities and other stakeholders to encourage mainstreaming of disaster mitigation considerations into existing programs/activities (e.g., urban planning, public health, community social programming)” (Public Safety Canada, 2008). Another comes in the discussion of mitigation investments, which says that

a successful mitigation strategy depends on contributions at all levels of government. The [National Disaster Mitigation Strategy] should leverage, acknowledge and encourage new, developing and existing mitigation activities (e.g. climate change adaptation, seismic safety, dam safety, transportation and storage of dangerous goods).

(Public Safety Canada, 2008)

Statements such as these create the opportunities to link hazard mitigation to other activities already underway and to previously established responsibilities rather than implying that hazard mitigation is a new and separate undertaking at all levels of government.

The National Disaster Mitigation Strategy was adopted in January 2008 without much fanfare. It was not until January of 2015 that the minister for public safety announced the funding program to support the strategy’s implementation (Government of Canada, 2018). This increase in federal funds available for mitigation was, however, accompanied by a change in the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (Public Safety Canada, 2008), which will mean less money for provinces to recover from impacts. This new funding became available from April 2015, but the 2015 Federal Election and change of government meant that this funding was not widely distributed.

The 2017 federal budget included a “landmark investment of $2-billion for disaster mitigation funding—the largest infusion of dollars dedicated to disaster mitigation in Canada’s history” (Forgeron, 2017). Despite this influx of money, it will likely take several years before the full benefits are realized. The foreword of the National Disaster Mitigation Strategy concludes: “It is recognized that full implementation of the National Strategy will require a long-term effort” (Public Safety Canada, 2008), which is something of an understatement for a strategy that took close to two decades to go from initial proposal, through development, to the point of being funded. The next step is the implementation of hazard mitigation projects by provincial and local governments. In order to achieve meaningful risk reduction, it is necessary for the local governments to employ the land-use planning tools provided by the relevant provincial legislation.

Provincial Legislation

Hazard mitigation is not the primary purpose of planning legislation in Canada and therefore a scan of the legislation must look for more discreet signs of intention or potential rather than expecting mitigation to be highlighted under a separate heading. The focus of this planning legislation is on managing the human/environment interaction, and natural hazards are a more likely manifestation of this interaction than terrorism or other conflict events. Canada’s National Disaster Mitigation Strategy (Public Safety Canada, 2008, p. 1) “supports all-hazards emergency management, with an initial focus on reducing risk posed by natural hazards, an area that stakeholders agree requires urgent attention.”

The interaction of human activities and the environment does play a significant role in many technological hazard impacts, such as in an oil pipeline spill, but the volumes of federal and provincial legislation covering all the various aspects of the manufacturing, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous substances warrant a separate study. Furthermore, the body of law around transportation that would relate to incidents such as aircraft crashes or train derailments is also large enough to deserve separate consideration. In addition, the various provincial legislation regarding the manufacturing, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous substances is not normally within the purview of community planners. In Manitoba, for example, hazardous substances are controlled by the Dangerous Goods Handling and Transportation Act (CCSM cD12), while environmental pollution is dealt with by The Environment Act (CCSM cE125).

Some provinces such as Manitoba have separate legislation to establish municipalities than that enacted to provide for land-use development and regulation. Other provinces, such as British Columbia, include the planning powers in their local government legislation. Therefore, each province’s legislative framework is different, and the appropriate planning acts or land-use management portions of other acts are the sole focus of this discussion.

It is, however, this mix of provincial planning and emergency management legislation that forms the operating environment for hazard mitigation. Moreover,

it is provincial governments that seem to play a pivotal role in influencing local mitigation, since they are constitutionally empowered to intervene directly or to mandate this responsibility to local governments.

(Henstra & McBean, 2005, p. 312)

The challenge for practitioners of both emergency management and the more established community planning disciplines is to see the opportunity and the obligation to pursue disaster risk reduction that is presented in the provincial legislation. The variation from province to province further hinders the development of cohesive hazard governance in Canada.

British Columbia

British Columbia faces a wide range of hazards including a significant earthquake risk to the heavily populated lower mainland and Vancouver Island communities, province-wide flood and wildfire hazards, and increasing impacts from climate change. Given this diverse hazard landscape, one that is perhaps more diverse than any of the other provinces, hazard mitigation is not proportionally present in the province’s legislation. The legislation does take an all-hazards approach with some emphasis on managing the flood risk and creates opportunities for local authorities to reduce risks through land and development management. These powers to mitigate hazards through land-use management are not well integrated with the emergency management requirements placed on local authorities.

British Columbia has several pieces of legislation that must be considered together when seeking requirements and options to manage hazards through land-use and other planning techniques. One is the Community Charter (SBC 2003, c 26) that states that one purpose of a municipality is “fostering the economic, social and environmental well-being of its community” (s7(d)). This clearly aligns with the three points of Campbell’s 1996 “Planner’s Triangle” that describes the challenges of sustainable development. The Community Charter (SBC 2003, c 26) does address hazard mitigation through the building permit process that prevents permits being issued when “a building inspector considers that construction would be on land that is subject to or is likely to be subject to flooding, mud flows, debris flows, debris torrents, erosion, land slip, rockfalls, subsidence or avalanche” (s56 ss2(b)). This reflects the importance placed on location specific hazards.

The Community Charter (SBC 2003, c 26) is applied in conjunction with British Columbia’s Local Government Act (RSBC 2015, c 1) that sets out the process for local authorities to have an official community plan. One of the seven pieces of content required in an official community plan relates to hazards:

An official community plan must include statements and map designations for the area covered by the plan respecting the following: . . . (d) restrictions on the use of land that is subject to hazardous conditions or that is environmentally sensitive to development. (Local Government Act RSBC 2015, s473 (1)(d))

The act does not, however, specifically define “hazardous conditions” though, for comparison, it does have four specific definitions relating to “heritage” conservation which is the subject of an entire part of the act with over thirty sections.

An official community plan may determine areas that will require a development permit. These areas may be designated for a number of reasons including “protection of development from hazardous conditions” (Local Government Act, RSBC 2015 s488 (1)(b)). Then, following on from this, the legislation does provide details regarding the kinds of hazards and the types of mitigation that can be required:

For land within a development permit area designated under section 488 (1) (b) [i.e. protection from hazardous conditions], a development permit may do one or more of the following:

  1. (a) specify areas of land that may be subject to flooding, mud flows, torrents of debris, erosion, land slip, rock falls, subsidence, tsunami, avalanche or wildfire, or to another hazard if this other hazard is specified under section 488 (1) (b), as areas that must remain free of development, except in accordance with any conditions contained in the permit;

  2. (b) require, in an area that the permit designates as containing unstable soil or water which is subject to degradation, that no septic tank, drainage and deposit fields or irrigation or water systems be constructed;

  3. (c) in relation to wildfire hazard, include requirements respecting the character of the development, including landscaping, and the siting, form, exterior design and finish of buildings and other structures;

  4. (d) in relation to wildfire hazard, establish restrictions on the type and placement of trees and other vegetation in proximity to the development. (RSBC 2015 s491 ss2(a)–(d)).

Local governments can only place development restrictions on land under these powers for the “health, safety or protection of property from damage” (RSBC 2015 s491(3)). Thus, the legislation puts hazard mitigation in the hands of the local authority later in the process, at the development permit step, rather than as part of broader zoning.

The Local Government Act (RSBC 2015) does take on the topic of flood protection in one section (s524, ss1–9), which allows the local government to designate an area as a floodplain and then regulate development in that area. This section references the flood management provisions of the Environmental Management Act (SBC 2003, c 53), in particular the power to create regulations regarding floodplain protection; however, no such regulations are currently in place.

British Columbia’s Emergency Program Act 1996 (RSBC 1996 c 111) empowers the Provincial Government, though the Minister, and local and regional councils to prepare, respond and recover from emergencies. There is no explicit requirement in the Act for hazard assessment or mitigation. However, two subsections may be interpreted to allow, but not require, the Minister to consider these issues.

The first subsection (s4(2)(a)) allows the minister to recommend preventative measures that, under the National Framework for Emergency Management (Public Safety Canada, 2011), would be part of mitigation. Hazard assessment is covered more clearly in s4(2)(b) though the integration of vulnerability assessment or risk analysis is less clear.

The Emergency Program Act does allow for the creation of regulations and British Columbia has adopted the Local Authority Emergency Management Regulation (B.C. Reg. 380/95). This regulation lays out in more detail the expectations of the provincial government for the implementation of The Emergency Program Act by local authorities. These regulations specify that

A local authority must reflect in the local emergency plan prepared by it under section 6 (2) of the Act

  1. (a) the potential emergencies and disasters that could affect all or any part of the jurisdictional area for which the local authority has responsibility, and

  2. (b) the local authority’s assessment of the relative risk of occurrence and the potential impact on people and property of the emergencies or disasters referred to under paragraph (a) (B.C. Reg. 380/95 s2(1)(a–b))

These requirements can also be interpreted to require local authorities to know what its potential emergencies and related risks are and, therefore, require the local authority to conduct a hazard and vulnerability assessment with some risk analysis. This does not, however, extend to requiring the local authority to mitigate those risks as the emergency plans that must reflect these risks are to be prepared “respecting preparation for, response to and recovery from emergencies and disasters” (RSBC 1996 c 111, s6(2)).

Unclear roles and responsibilities are difficulties inherent in requiring mitigation through different pieces of legislation that address the activities of multiple levels of government. This problem has been discussed in comparison to the situation in the United States.

Through the implementation of the [Disaster Mitigation Act (Public Law 106-390)], the federal government in the USA has sought to resolve the shared governance dilemma in managing natural hazards by providing municipalities with attractive incentives to develop and adopt [Hazard Mitigation Plans]; in BC, neither the provincial government nor the federal government of Canada currently incentivizes municipal hazard mitigation planning.

(Stevens & Shoubridge, 2015, p. 24)

With the creation of the National Disaster Mitigation Program in the 2014 budget, the government of Canada is providing funding in support of the National Disaster Mitigation Strategy. Whether this will have any bearing on how provinces promote mitigation to their local authorities is yet to be seen. It is anticipated that the federal funding to the provinces will promote better hazard mapping and lead to further hazard mitigation investments.

Alberta

Alberta has experienced several of Canada’s largest disasters, including a large tornado in Edmonton in 1987. But Alberta still has a hazard-specific legislative framework that reflects a reactive posture and a lack of integration. In 2013, there were widespread flood losses across the southern quarter of the province, especially in Calgary City and the town of High River. This created a political environment that supported the introduction of new hazard mitigation–related legislation specifically targeting flooding. Unfortunately, these changes came after a disaster and only addressed one risk; however, they do demonstrate that mitigation requirements can be integrated into existing planning and emergency management law. Subsequently the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 again refocused the province’s efforts to reduce future risk although some argue the lessons from Fort McMurray only echo those from the 2011 wildfire impact on the community of Slave Lake Alberta (Westhaver, 2017)

Alberta’s Municipal Government Act (RSA 2000, c M-26) contains sections on the creation of land- use bylaws and the rules around the subdivision of land. The act offers up a range of issues a land-use bylaw may deal with, from building size and design, through parking and signage controls, to population densities. Among these possible (but not required) considerations are “the development of buildings on land subject to flooding or subsidence or that is low lying, marshy or unstable” (s640(4)(l)(i)). Furthermore, an environmental reserve may be required in a subdivision if the “land that is subject to flooding or is, in the opinion of the subdivision authority, unstable” (s664(1)(b)). These are optional considerations for the local authority and presume both the knowledge of these types of lands when the development is proposed and the local authority’s willingness to impose such conditions.

However, a section covering the development of floodways was added to the Municipal Government Act in 2013 when several other acts were amended after that year’s significant flood event in Calgary and southern Alberta. The provincial government can now regulate floodway development within municipal authorities. This section gives the government of Alberta a considerable ability to direct municipalities on how to manage their flood risk regardless of their existing plans or bylaws and without the need for the same public input.

The other hazard that is recognized in the Alberta legislation develops from oil and gas extraction. While the environmental impact and workplace safety aspects of this industry are covered in separate legislation, the Alberta Subdivision and Development Regulation (Reg 43/2002) does require local authorities to consider the risk from a sour gas (hydrogen sulfide H2S) facility, gas or oil well, or an abandoned well. The same regulation also specifies the requirements for floodplain mapping as part of the application to subdivide or develop affected lands.

The Emergency Management Act (RSA 2000, c E-6.8) was also amended in 2013 to give the Alberta government the power to regulate the provision of “funding for the reimbursement of costs incurred by local authorities and individuals in connection with measures taken to reduce or mitigate potential flood hazards” (RSA 2000, c E-6.8 s6(c 1)(i)). The cost of mitigation, and particularly what level of government will pay, is an outstanding issue whenever mitigation is discussed.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan’s planning legislation, the Planning and Development Act, 2007 (SS 2007, c P-13.2) provides for an all-hazards approach for municipalities to manage risk however this is not integrated with the province’s emergency management legislation. One purpose of the Planning and Development Act 2007, which is separate from the province’s municipal legislation, is “to support the development of environmentally, economically, socially and culturally sustainable communities” (s3(c)) which presents an opportunity to integrate its purpose with other sustainability activities including sustainable mitigation. While hazard mitigation is not prominent in the legislation, the requirement and power to use land planning as a tool for public safety is clear in the Statements of Provincial Interest Regulations (RRS c P-13.2 Reg 3) that the local authorities must consider in their planning (SS 2007, c P-13.2 s8).

Saskatchewan has taken more of an all hazards approach in the Statements of Provincial Interest by considering natural and human induced threats in the section on public safety (RRS c P-13.2 Reg 3 s6.7) and referencing flooding, wildfire, and other emergencies in the guidance. The regulation specifies that municipal planning documents and decisions shall

  1. 1. identify potential hazard lands and address their management

  2. 2. limit development on hazard lands to minimize the risk to public or private infrastructure

  3. 3. prohibit the development of new buildings and additions to buildings in the flood way of the 1:500-year flood elevation of any watercourse or water body

  4. 4. require flood-proofing of new buildings and additions to buildings to an elevation 0.5 meters above the 1:500-year flood elevation of any watercourse or water in the flood fringe

  5. 5. locate subdivisions, transportation infrastructure, and public works to minimize, mitigate, or avoid threats to the community from wildfire or other emergencies

  6. 6. consider community and regional fire protection measures adjacent to forests. (The Statements of Provincial Interest Regulations RRS c P-13.2 Reg 3 s6.7.)

This approach makes it clear that local authorities need to consider all threats and promotes mitigation measure for hazards that are commonly treated through development and zoning regulations. Furthermore, the regulation defines “hazard land” as “land that is contaminated, unstable, prone to flooding or otherwise unsuited for development or occupation because of its inherent danger to public health, safety or property” (RRS c P-13.2 Reg 3 s7).

The Planning and Development Act reinforces this by requiring local authorities to include “the management of lands that are subject to natural hazards, including flooding, slumping and slope instability” (SS 2007, c P-13.2 s32(2)(d)) in their official community plan. The local authorities are then given the power to create and enforce zoning bylaws consistent with their official community plan, and these bylaws may contain restrictions on the development of hazardous land (SS 2007, c P-13.2 s52(3)(h)(i–iii)). The act also establishes that local authorities may set “development standards on hazardous lands” to address public safety concerns in the sub-division approval process.

In contrast, Saskatchewan’s Emergency Planning Act (SS 1989–90 Chapter E-8.1) is very response oriented. It requires the province (s5(a)) and local authorities (s9(3)) to develop emergency plans regarding “the provision of necessary services during an emergency; and the procedures under and the manner in which persons will respond to an emergency.” There is little else in the act to provide for mitigation other than the provision allowing the minister to assess hazard and promote prevention measures.

Manitoba

Manitoba’s approach to hazard mitigation is multi-pronged and requires several documents to be reviewed together in order to fully appreciate the combined intent. Overall the obligation for local authorities to mitigate natural hazards is outlined in the Provincial Land Use Policies (Man Reg 81/2011). An all-hazard risk reduction approach is presented as a primary concern; however, the development plan adoption process can lessen the emphasis local authorities place on mitigation. The planning and emergency management legislation are not well integrated.

As a province with a long history of significant flooding, it is familiar with flood mitigation measures including the 48km-long Red River Floodway diversion around Winnipeg and other major flood control works. However, this investment in a hard engineering, protective style of flood mitigation does not reflect a broader all-hazard and all-methods approach to mitigation that the province appears to be moving toward. This trend can be identified in the Provincial Land Use Policies (Man Reg 81/2011) and the Local Authorities Emergency Planning and Preparedness Regulation (Man Reg 159/2016).

Upon first review the Planning Act of 2005 (CCSM c P80) appears surprisingly devoid of significant measures to reduce hazard risks. It lumps hazardous areas under the larger, more ambiguous term of “sensitive land”:

“sensitive land” includes

  1. (a) land that is susceptible to flooding, permafrost, erosion or that has unstable slopes or poor drainage;

  2. (b) areas of special significance for animal, bird, or plant life, including wetlands, forests, and nesting areas; and

  3. (c) land on which any development is likely to harm ecological diversity. (Planning Act 2005 CCSM c P80 s1(1)).

Every planning district (s40(1)) or municipality not in a district (s40(2)) must prepare a development plan. The act does not explicitly require consideration of sensitive lands in these overarching development plans but they must reflect the Provincial Land Use Policies that do have hazard mitigation as a theme.

Regional strategies prepared through the cooperation of several planning districts or municipalities may consider sensitive lands (s5(3)(b)(vi)). Secondary plans, designed for specific areas covered by a development plan, may also consider matters “respecting economic development or the enhancement or special protection of heritage resources or sensitive lands” (s63(1)(c)) among other things. Every municipality must have a zoning by-law (s68) or be part of a district zoning by-law (s69(1)). These zoning bylaws may consider “the protection of scenic areas, heritage resources and sensitive land” (s71(3)(v)) and “the construction, location or placement of a building on sensitive land” (s71(3)(w)). These two options, being 22nd and 23rd in a list of 24 subsections, contradicts the importance the government of Manitoba puts on hazard mitigation in the Provincial Land Use Policies (Man Reg 81/2011).

The Provincial Planning Regulations (Man Reg 81/2011), empowered by section 4(1) of the Planning Act, set out the Provincial Land Use Policies in a schedule. The Provincial Land Use Policies schedule consists of a set of definitions (Part 1); an introduction (Part 2); the set of nine Provincial Land Use Policies (Part 3); expectations on the preparation of development plans (Part 4), and a final section entirely dedicated to livestock operations (Part 5). The nine Provincial Land Use Policies are: (1) General Development; (2) Settlement Areas; (3) Agriculture; (4) Renewable Resources, Heritage & Recreation; (5) Water; (6) Infrastructure; (7) Transportation; (8) Mineral Resources; and (9) Capital Region. Each of the policies starts with an explanatory statement of the province’s interest. There are several references in the introduction and the provincial interest statements to support the integration of hazard mitigation into development plans. Unfortunately, these pieces are only for information and do not form an obligatory part of the schedule (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011, s5).

The introduction to Manitoba’s Provincial Land Use Policies presents nine principles to guide land-use planning: long-term vision; public interests; compatibility; mitigation and adaptation; sustainability, optimization, and efficiency; comprehensiveness; integration; and public participation (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 2, p. 7). All of these have some potential to support hazard mitigation with “mitigation and adaptation” appearing at first glance as the most obvious; however, this principle does not make a distinct connection to natural hazards or risk reduction:

Mitigation and adaptation—the ability to anticipate, mitigate and adapt to change speaks to a community's resiliency. Managing change, such as shifts in population, demographics, economics, ecology and climatic norms requires that local plans and policies be flexible, not static. It requires local capacity to anticipate challenges and evaluate land use and development decisions on the basis of how well they mitigate the negative effects of change or adapt to those effects. (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 2, p. 8)

While the language, with terms such as resiliency or local capacity, will be familiar to emergency managers, it is not necessarily going to be understood within an emergency management context. A planner may see this as being able to deal with a major industry closing in a small community or the influx of new migrants to an area. It does, however, present an opening for a conversation about the similarities and common planning approaches between the two disciplines.

It is really the principle of “compatibility” that refers to hazard mitigation more directly. Compatibility lists “danger to human health and safety and damage to property and investments from hazards, such as flooding, and the resulting public expenditures for evacuation and compensation” (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 2, p. 8) as one example of how incompatible development can have negative consequences. The other principles, especially sustainability, comprehensiveness and integration, all offer connections to Mileti’s (1999) principles of sustainable mitigation for a planner or emergency manager with the vision to see them and the willingness, or perhaps ability, to build such bridges.

The Provincial Land Use Policies thus set goals and policies that are to be achieved through the districts’ and municipalities’ development plans; this is where the incorporation of hazard mitigation has its strongest foothold. All nine policy areas are meant to be taken together and considered equally important, though “Policy Area 1: General Development apply equally to all the other policy areas and should be read together with them” (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 2, p. 9). This is significant because it is within Policy Area 1: General Development that the emphasis on community safety is most explicit. Its first goal sets a clear priority on safety:

1.1 Protecting People, Property and Investment

Goals

To avoid and mitigate risks to people, property and investments from hazards and nuisances.

To anticipate change and undertake the necessary planning and measures needed to adapt. (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 3, pp. 10–11)

These goals combine the traditional emergency management perspective on natural hazard risk reduction and the climate change language of adaptation. Ideally the districts and municipalities will adopt these goals as a fundamental purpose of their development plans.

The next level of guidance within the Provincial Land Use Policies is the policy statements attached to each set of goals. For the “1.1 Protecting People, Property and Investment” statement the first of these more specific goals is:

1.1.1 Planning and development decisions must direct development to areas that are suitable for the proposed use and where risk can be prevented or minimized. Factors to be taken into account when assessing risk include

  1. (a) hazards or activities in or nearby proposed development that have the potential to negatively impact development or health and safety;

  2. (b) accessibility of emergency services;

  3. (c) existing land uses in or nearby the proposed development that could be negatively impacted by development;

  4. d) the potential for development to negatively impact the environment;

  5. (e) the vulnerabilities of development to the potential effects of climate change; and

  6. (f) any other issue noted in the local emergency plan. (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 3, pp. 10–11).

This implies there will be a risk assessment undertaken for either the entire area that the development plan is created for, or at least on a property-by-property basis as part of the development permits application. The challenge is these risk assessments only became required in 2016 by the Local Authorities Emergency Planning and Preparedness Regulation (Man Reg 159/2016).

The second and third policies under the goal of “ 1.1 Protecting People, Property and Investment” are more specific:

1.1.2 Land that could be unsafe for development due to naturally occurring processes, such as flooding, erosion and bank instability, is not suitable for development. Such land should be left in its natural state or its use should be limited to low intensity uses.

1.1.3 Incompatible developments and developments that may pose dangers to health and safety or that may be offensive and disturbing to the reasonable use of property should be located so that the development or use

  1. (a) does not negatively affect existing developments or designated land uses; and

  2. (b) can operate or expand safely, without unreasonable limitations. (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 3, pp. 10–11)

These policies cover both natural and technological hazards and the final example offers a range of mitigation measures.

Examples of these types of developments and uses include major utility and transportation facilities, waste storage, handling or disposal sites, and other land uses that can create detrimental impacts such as safety issues and noise and odor concerns. Potential dangers and nuisances associated with these developments and uses must be considered and either prevented through appropriate land-use planning or suitably mitigated through measures such as the use of separation, natural or human-made barriers, operating techniques, building materials or design. (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 3, pp. 10–11)

These policies are meant to be applied to all development, as guided by the other eight policy areas, and therefore should carry significant weight in directing development in Manitoba to focus on safety first. However, these goals do not appear to have as significant an influence on local planning as the regulations suggest. The remaining eight Policy Areas (in Part 3) do not explicitly address hazard mitigation except the goals and policies in 5.2 Avoiding Flooding and Erosion, which set out rules for development in Designated Flood Areas. This is linked to the province’s Designated Flood Area Regulation, (Man Reg 59/2002) empowered by the Water Resources Administration Act (CCSM c W70), which creates flood-proofing requirements for structures being built in designated flood areas including a two-step permitting process to ensure compliance and consistency. No structures can be constructed or added to in the flood areas without such a permit (Water Resources Administration Act, CCSM c W70 s17(1)). This approach to one specific hazard demonstrates that effective mitigation measures can be integrated into the Provincial Land Use Policies.

The Provincial Land Use Policies recognize that the development plans prepared by planning districts and municipalities are “the cornerstone for decision-making related to land use and development” (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 4, p. 42). Therefore, once a development plan is approved by the minister and adopted as a bylaw the Provincial Land Use Policies’ schedule no longer applies to that jurisdiction as it is assumed the policies are incorporated and given a local context by the development plan. To protect the balance between local responsibilities for planning and development and the province’s broader interests in the welfare of communities the Provincial Land Use Policies are essentially replaced by the development plan, and therefore the development plans are to be generally consistent with the policies.

It is also intended that development plan by-law policies be mutually supportive of the policies of other local or regional plans, including integrated watershed management plans, transportation plans, municipal emergency and business continuity plans and climate change action plans. (Planning Regulations R.M 81/2011 Schedule, Part 4, p. 42)

To help ensure this occurs the requirements for preparing a development plan, in addition to what is contained in the Planning Act, are detailed in “Part 4: Development Plans of the Provincial Land Use Policies.” This, however, presents a weak link in the chain when it comes to integrating risk reduction into development plans, as the references to hazard management are vague and relate more to the broader challenges of climate change.

The Emergency Measures Act (CCSM c E80) does require government departments, as part of a mandatory emergency management program to have “an assessment of the hazards and risks posed by various disasters and emergencies and how those disasters and emergencies might affect the department's ability to provide the essential services” (s8.1(2)(c)). The corresponding requirement for local authorities is contained in “Section 8: Hazard and Risk Assessment of the Local Authorities Emergency Planning and Preparedness Regulation” (Man Reg 159/2016).

Ontario

Overall Ontario’s Planning Act creates a hazard mitigation–friendly legislative environment without going so far as to make hazard mitigation an obligation. Combined with the requirement for local hazard and risk assessment found in the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (RSO 1990, c E.9), local authorities are presented with the foundation for an all-hazard mitigation approach. However, the lack of clear integration hinders the potential of this approach.

Ontario’s Planning Act (RSO 1990, c P.13) is limited to community planning issues, unlike some other provinces that combine this with the rules governing other municipal activities. It sets out its six purposes in section 1.1, although the only the two purposes that have relevance to promoting hazard mitigation are regarding sustainability and healthy environments (s1.1(a)) and potentially “to integrate matters of provincial interest in provincial and municipal planning decisions” (s1.1(c)). The Planning Act sets out 20 specific matters that the province wishes to have considered in local planning. These “matters of provincial interest” are wide ranging and vary from broad generic statements including “protection of the agricultural resources” (s2(b)) or “the minimization of waste” (s2(g)), to more focused concerns such as “accessibility for persons with disabilities to all facilities, services and matters to which this Act applies” (s2(h.1)) (RSO 1990, c P.13 s2).

This section could be interpreted to include mitigation on the basis that the listed interests are meant to be a sample or to serve to demonstrate the types of matters that may be of provincial interest. However, while the list begins with “such as,” there is no final generic point to suggest that other similar matters may also be considered. The legal interpretation rule expressio unius est exclusio alterius—the inclusion of the one is the exclusion of the other—should guide a reader to believe that the legislature identified these interests specifically and did not intend for other matters to be added. This counter-argument is strengthened by the matters that are listed, such as waste management or the provision of recreational facilities, being of a similar scale to hazard mitigation.

Alternatively, the section could be broadly interpreted include safety as an interest based on the inclusion of “the orderly development of safe and healthy communities” (s2(h)), and “the protection of public health and safety” (s2(o)). A local authority would need to extrapolate that hazard mitigation is part of making communities safer. The addition in 2017 of “the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to a changing climate” (s2(s)), improves the connection between planning and hazard but by employing the climate change language of “mitigation” and “adaptation” the legislation may limit the application planning to reducing other sources of risk. This addition also supports the argument that if the government of Ontario wanted an all-hazards approach to mitigation it should specify that intention as a provincial interest. If the provincial elected officials considered mitigation a priority they would have listed it rather than leaving it to be implied. It would certainly be a more powerful argument in favor of mitigation had it been added as a separate matter or incorporated clearly by name into the sections on safety or even into another such as the protection of the environment (s2(a)).

Ontario, like the other provinces, does grant municipalities the power to create zoning bylaws as a means of implementing land-use planning. However, Ontario’s planning legislation is somewhat more direct in expressing hazard mitigation as one reason for doing so by saying that zoning bylaws may be used

for prohibiting the erection of any class or classes of buildings or structures on land that is subject to flooding or on land with steep slopes, or that is rocky, low-lying, marshy, unstable, hazardous, subject to erosion or to natural or artificial perils. (RSO 1990, c P.13 s34 (1)(3))

This prohibition on development, an “avoidance” approach (Glavovic & Smith, 2014), is just one mitigation option, but this does set a clearer requirement than elsewhere in the act.

The Planning Act (RSO 1990, c P.13 s50(3)(e) and s50(5)(d)) also deals with the use of land relating to controlling natural processes, such as flooding and erosion, under the Conservation Authorities Act (RSO 1990, c C.27, s24), which itself contains several sections directing conservation authorities to manage hazardous lands under their jurisdiction.

Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (RSO 1990, c E.9) places an obligation on both municipalities (s2.1(3)) and government ministries (s5.1(2)) to conduct a hazard and risk assessment and to identify critical infrastructure. It does not, however, require either level of government to take action to reduce the likelihood or vulnerability identified in this process but, rather, to prepare appropriate response plans.

One additional obligation on government departments, coming out of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act’s requirement for them to have an emergency plan (RSO 1990, c E.9 s6) and to identify and analyze critical systems and infrastructure in order to prioritize resumption (i.e., response) activities. In a comprehensive emergency management approach, there would be an intermediate step of identifying and implementing risk reduction measures.

Quebec

Québec’s legislation offers some of the clearest language regarding hazards. As Kovacs and Kunreuther (2001) pointed out, Quebec has legislation “requiring detailed hazard planning at the local level, ongoing community investments in disaster prevention, and that updated plans must regularly be filed with regional and provincial authorities” (p. 11). The effect of the integration of Québec’s land-use planning and emergency management legislation is an all-hazards approach that places mitigation obligations on local municipalities and regional county municipalities (RCMs).

Québec’s legislation and its style of land management are rooted in a different tradition than the provinces that drew their models from England. Furthermore, the official English version of the legislation may contain odd phrases or terms resulting from the translation process. However, the differences are not so great that they preclude examining Québec’s An Act Respecting Land Use Planning and Development (CQLR c A-19.1), the Civil Protection Act (R.S.Q., c S-2.3), and the other relevant legislation.

The Act Respecting Land Use Planning and Development requires that all regional county municipalities develop a Land Use Planning and Development Plan that must

identify zones where land occupation is subject to special restrictions for reasons of public safety such as flood zones, erosion zones, landslide zones or zones subject to other disasters or for reasons of environmental protection regarding riverbanks and lakeshores, littoral zones and floodplains. (CQLR c A-19.1 s5(4))

This clearly creates an obligation for the RCMs to conduct an all-hazards assessment of the region. This information has an important connection to the local authorities’ responsibilities to mitigate hazards.

The act then requires municipalities within an RCM to pass zoning or subdivision bylaws to effect its RCM’s Land Use Planning and Development Plan. Within the section describing the power of municipalities to create zoning bylaws is a further opportunity to mitigate hazards in that bylaws may include provisions

to regulate or prohibit all or certain land uses, structures or works, taking into account the topography of the landsite, the proximity of a stream or lake, the danger of flood, rockfall, landslide or other disaster, or any other factor specific to the nature of a place which may be taken into consideration for reasons of public safety or of environmental protection regarding riverbanks and lakeshores, littoral zones or floodplains; to provide, in respect of an immovable that is described in the zoning by-law and that is situated in a flood zone to which a prohibition or rule made under this subparagraph applies, for an exemption from the prohibition or rule for any land use, structure or works specified in the by-law. (s113(16))

These provisions, and the very similar wording regarding hazardous lands relating to subdivision plans (s115), give the most local level of government the land-use zoning power and clearly connect the application of these powers to achieve hazard mitigation. The act makes reference in several places—in sections 2.24(7),113(16.1), s115(4.1))—to “reasons of public security, public health or general well-being” that creates the obligation to consider more than just flooding and must not be subject to variations of the zoning bylaw (s145.2 and s145,37(1)).

In concert with these land-use powers, Quebec’s Civil Protection Act (R.S.Q., c S-2.3) establishes a truly comprehensive emergency management approach that explicitly includes mitigation measures in its purpose (s1). It sets out an interesting exchange of obligations between on all citizens and the local authorities. This begins with the assertion that “all persons must exercise prudence and foresight with regard to major or minor disaster risks they know to be present in their environment” (R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s5). It then links this to the individual’s acceptance of risk and the local authority’s obligation to provide information about risk:

Any person who settles on a site where occupation of the land is commonly known to be subject to special restrictions by reason of a major or minor disaster risk without abiding by such restrictions is presumed to accept the risk involved.

However, such presumption may not be invoked against a person by a public authority if the public authority authorized the person to settle on the site without informing the person of the risk (R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s6).

The act then connects this to the local authority’s responsibility to know about hazards and to prevent the development of hazardous lands.

Where the competent regulatory authority has reasonable cause to believe that a site described in section 6 poses such a disaster risk that the carrying out of work or the use of immovables (sic) on the site ought to be prohibited or made subject to stricter authorization conditions than those prescribed by law, any application for authorization to carry on such activities, even if received before the discovery of the risk, must be refused. (s7)

The requirement for RMCs to undertake hazards assessments makes it far more likely that the local municipalities will have reasonable risk information to share with citizens and on which to base zoning restrictions or other prohibitions on the use of hazardous land.

The next major portion of the Civil Protection Act (R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s8-s15) deals with risks that are generated by or on a person’s property. It requires the person generating the risk to report to the local authority on the nature of the risk, including its potential scope and consequences, as well as possible and implemented mitigation and preparedness measures. These reports must be kept up to date if there are changes, and the local authority must share them with the RMC and the local emergency management authorities. The person generating the risk must also cooperate with local emergency management authorities regarding warning systems and response activities, including notification of incidents and after-incident reports and penalties for non-compliance (R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s128(1)). This portion of the legislation is important as it integrates the mitigation of technological hazards.

These requirements around the collection of risk information and the control of hazardous land are then incorporated into a RCM’s civil protection plan, which is to determine “reduced major disaster vulnerability objectives for their entire territory and the actions required to achieve those objectives” (R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s16). These civil protection plans are developed by the RCM through a process of consultation with the municipalities and the public (as specified in R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s16 to s41). The legislation is also clear about the contents of a civil protection plan with an emphasis on the identification and reduction of vulnerability:

The civil protection plan shall include a summary description of the physical, natural, human, social and economic features of the territory. The civil protection plan shall identify the nature of the major disaster risks to which the territory is exposed, including the risks reported pursuant to section 8, specifying for each risk the location of its source, the foreseeable consequences of a major disaster related to the risk and the area that could be affected. The plan shall also mention existing safety measures and the human, physical and informational resources at the disposal of local or regional authorities and civil protection authorities.

Based on that information, the civil protection plan shall assess the degree of vulnerability of local municipalities to each risk or class of risks identified.

In order to reduce vulnerability, the civil protection plan shall then determine, for the risks or classes of risks it specifies or all or part of the territory, achievable safety objectives in view of planned measures and available resources. (R.S.Q., c S-2.3 s18)

It is worth noting the requirement begins with a description of the “physical, natural, human, social and economic features of the territory” rather than the hazards. This acknowledges that hazards are a part of the community’s wider situation. The civil protection plans are also meant to set out local and regional municipalities’ obligations to implement the actions specified to meet the objectives and to monitor their progress.

A similar obligation is placed on the minister responsible for the Civil Protection Act (R.S.Q. c S-2.3) to have a civil protection plan for the whole province. This provincial plan is intended to improve cooperation between and provide support from the provincial departments as well as to

reduce the vulnerability of society to the major disaster risks determined by the Minister having foreseeable consequences on a Québec-wide scale, in particular through disaster mitigation, emergency response planning, emergency response or recovery measures, or through separate risk management at the appropriate level, in collaboration with other governments or regional or local authorities concerned. (R.S.Q. c S-2.3 s80(2))

Connected to this is the development of emergency plans, as required by sections 60–61, by government departments and bodies. These plans will include hazard assessments and mitigation activities as well as the more traditional response and recovery plans. Furthermore, the minister may conduct risk management research (s67 (3)) and may “propose, coordinate or carry out activities or work designed to eliminate or reduce disaster risks, mitigate the consequences of a disaster and facilitate emergency response and recovery operations” (R.S.Q. c S-2.3 s67(4)).

The final components of interest in Quebec’s Civil Protection Act are the sections dealing with disaster financial assistance programs. While the post-disaster recovery period is seen as a window of opportunity to initiate hazard mitigation, Quebec’s legislation also takes a retroactive look at actions that were not taken and links those decisions to the eligibility for financial aid. Thus,

persons having accepted a risk, persons who, without valid reason, failed to take the mitigation measures prescribed by law or ordered by a competent public authority in respect of a risk, and the persons who are responsible for their losses, are not eligible under any financial assistance program for the repair of damage caused to property by a disaster. (R.S.Q. c S-2.3 s104)

Regional and local authorities may also find their requests for financial assistance in jeopardy if they failed to conform to the requirements of the act, including the actions specified in the relevant civil protection plan, or if they knowingly allowed unrestricted development on hazardous land (R.S.Q. c S-2.3 s105). The act does allow assistance for future mitigation and response planning in these circumstances so a local authority can improve.

Financial assistance provided during recovery can serve as an incentive for future mitigation. Quebec takes this a step further allowing that

where damage is caused by a disaster to property located on a site where the occupation of the land was commonly known to be subject to special restrictions by reason of the risk of such a disaster, financial assistance may be conditional upon the implementation of impact mitigation measures, the relocation of the property or the relocation of the occupants. (s106)

This provision could certainly help to curtail redevelopment of hazardous land. It is especially useful since the willingness to undertake mitigation measures is greater during the period after a disaster. The requirements to identify hazards and to mitigate risk through the land-use planning legislation, the requirement to plan for those risks, and the potential of not receiving post-disaster assistance if mitigation was not properly carried out: all of these factors combine to create a powerful incentive to local authorities and private citizens to undertake mitigation activities.

New Brunswick

An all hazard approach to mitigation is not a clearly articulated priority in New Brunswick’s legislation. The provincial planning and emergency management legislation are not integrated, and the local authorities’ responsibilities for both issues are not connected to provide for effective hazard governance.

The Community Planning Act (RSNB 1973, c C-12) has limited references to hazards, although there is a unique section dedicated to flood mitigation. The act creates a familiar hierarchy of provincial planning policies (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s4.1(1)), regional development plans (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s17(1)), and various municipal development plans (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s23(1)(a)) and schemes. However, the control of land and development for the purpose of reducing natural hazard risks is not mentioned in the sections that outline the main purpose of these planning processes, even though several other priorities of a similar scale, such as urban renewal in municipal development plans (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s23(5)(a)(vi)(H)), are explicit.

These local plans are then realized through the implementation of a zoning bylaw (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s34(1)(a)). Only here does a concern for hazard mitigation first arise in the optional power to use zoning to prevent building on land that is considered “marshy, subject to flooding, excessively steep or otherwise unsuitable for a proposed purpose by virtue of its soil or topography (s34(3)(g)). Such restrictions can be incorporated into a municipal zoning bylaw as part of the normal adoption process, although the types of concerns do not extend to creating an all-hazards approach to mitigation.

Should a municipality wish to create a more specific bylaw regarding flood prevention it has to seek the minister’s approval to “designate any area within the municipality to be a flood risk area” (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s41.1(1)). Once this has been done and the flood area mapped (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s41.1(2)) the municipality

may enact a flood risk area by-law to be effective within the flood risk area and to provide for

  1. (a) the maintenance of an adequate floodway for conveyance of flood waters,

  2. (b) the conservation of the flood-water storage capacity of any area, and

  3. (c) the protection of new development from the risk of flood damage (RSNB 1973, c C-12 s41.2(1)).

While this does look to protect new development from flood damage, the overall aim of flood risk area bylaw provisions appears to be more focused on the hydrological aspects of preserving the floodway capacity than it does the addressing the risk to the community. Furthermore, the obligations relating to mapping the flood area and receiving approval to enact a flood bylaw rest on the local authority. Considering the many existing barriers to local authorities implementing mitigation (Shreve & Kelman, 2014), adding additional upfront costs to hazard governance tools, such as flood area zoning, is unlikely to encourage adoption.

New Brunswick issued a Flood Risk Reduction Strategy (Province of New Brunswick, 2014). While not specifically referred to as a provincial planning policy under the Community Planning Act, this strategy does set out new objectives for New Brunswick local and regional planning regarding flood mitigation. In doing so, it recognizes that the opportunity to mitigate flood risk using the authority conferred by the Community Planning Act has not been completely successful. Overall the Flood Risk Reduction Strategy takes a far more comprehensive approach than the Community Planning Act, including more connections to community vulnerability and resilience and better integration between community planning and emergency management.

Emergency management in New Brunswick is conducted under the auspices of the Emergency Measures Act (RSNB 2011, c 147). It is similar to the legislation in the neighboring provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island with the same dominance of the response component over the other aspects of emergency management. It does allow for the Emergency Measures Organization to “conduct public information programs related to the prevention and mitigation of damage by disaster” (RSNB 2011, c 147 s7(d)); however, this nod to promoting mitigation does not recur in the obligations on local authorities (RSNB 2011, c 147 s9 (a)–(g)). The provincial minister is given the power to require a person to develop an emergency plan in conjunction with the relevant authorities to address any risk that may be posed by that person’s activities on their property. This includes “to remedy or alleviate any hazard to persons, property or the environment” (RSNB 2011, c 147 s8(1)(e)), which can be taken as requiring a degree of hazard mitigation or risk reduction.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia legislation creates limited hazard governance powers for local authorities and emphasizes disaster response over mitigation. In Nova Scotia the planning, development, and subdivision powers are found in the Municipal Government Act (SNS 1998, c 18). This is a substantial piece of legislation that covers the creation and administration of local authorities, finance and taxation, and a range of other powers. It does contain several sections that offer the local authority powers to mitigate natural hazards.

Like Ontario, Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act allows the provincial government to express its interests (SNS 1998, c 18 s193) and requires local governments’ planning documents to reflect these interests. However, Nova Scotia has taken the step of issuing a Statement of Provincial Interest Regarding Flood Risk Areas (as a schedule to the act) in order to “protect public safety and property and to reduce the requirement for flood control works and flood damage restoration in floodplains” (Schedule B, Municipal Government Act SNS 1998, c 18).

This Statement of Provincial Interest is relatively detailed and comes out of the Canada–Nova Scotia Flood Damage Reduction Program that Nova Scotia joined in 1978. The Flood Damage Reduction Program was a federal government initiative that ran from 1975 to 1998. In Nova Scotia five river basins were identified as flood risk areas, and development limits were set within the floodway and the floodway fringe. This prohibited any development within the floodway, being “the inner portion of a flood risk area where the risk of flooding is greatest, on average once in twenty years, and where flood depths and velocities are greatest” and strictly limiting the kind of development allowable in the floodway fringe, defined as “the outer portion of a flood risk area, between the floodway and the outer boundary of the flood risk area, where the risk of flooding is lower” (Schedule B, Municipal Government Act SNS 1998, c 18). These floodway fringe limits included prohibiting both vulnerable institutions, such as hospitals or seniors’ residences, and any facility using hazardous substances. This application of a risk management approach, one that recognizes the contribution of both the natural flood processes and human development, is commendable.

These limitations on development are intended to be incorporated into the local authorities’ planning documents. The Municipal Government Act allows for the implementation of a municipal planning strategy that may include policies on

the protection, use and development of lands within the municipality, including the identification, protection, use and development of lands subject to flooding, steep slopes, lands susceptible to subsidence, erosion or other geological hazards, swamps, marshes or other environmentally sensitive areas. (SNS 1998, c 18 s214(1) (c))

This creates the opportunity for the local authority to mitigate a wide range of hazards, though not necessarily an “all-hazards” approach, by passing zoning bylaws that may contain provisions to prevent building on hazardous land.

The Emergency Management Act (SNS 1990, c 8) establishes Nova Scotia’s disaster response capabilities and sets out optional and required activities for the provincial government and the local authorities. Its provisions are focused on disaster response, including the development of plans, conducting training, identifying resources, and other preparation activities. Several of the regulations empowered by the act still retain much of their original text from when they were drafted in the late 1960s in the context of the Cold War. While the act’s definition of emergency management plan includes a reference to plans and programs “intended to mitigate the effects of an emergency or disaster” (SNS 1990, c 8 s2(d)), there are no further supporting measures to motivate local authorities to undertake a comprehensive hazard mitigation program.

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island’s legislation is almost silent on hazard mitigation. There is no integration between planning and emergency management nor explicit obligations on any level of government to assess and reduce risks from natural hazards. P.E.I. shares its approach to emergency management with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and thus the Emergency Measures Act (RSPEI 1988, c E-6.1) has only passing references to hazard mitigation that require a fairly generous interpretation of the act’s intention. The act does provide the minister the power to require a person to alleviate risks posed by their activities on a property that is more effective when dealing with technological hazards with a fixed location.

The differences between the three maritime provinces’ legislation are more easily discernable when it comes to community planning. The Planning Act (RSPEI 1988, c P-8) is comparatively brief and simply establishes the roles and responsibilities for community planning within the province. There is no mention of hazards, either in general nor the more commonly specified hazards of flooding, slope failure, or geological conditions beyond the power of the government to

make regulations establishing minimum development standards respecting

  1. (i) public health and safety,

  2. (ii) protection of the natural environment,

  3. (iii) landscape features (s7(1)(c))

and, in areas not covered by a municipal plan, the power to regulate land use zones including “establishing and regulating areas as environmentally sensitive areas” (s8(1)(c)(iv)). It stretches the normal rules for interpreting legislation to assume environmentally sensitive areas include hazardous areas, especially since the phrase is not separately defined in the act, and the previous subsection makes specific reference to issues such as “fossil remains.” It is more appropriate to assume that had the lawmakers in P.E.I. intended zoning to be used for hazard mitigation they would have provided a more explicit reference as demonstrated in several other planning acts across the country.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has taken steps through its planning legislation to address flood risks. However, these efforts are not integrated with the emergency management system despite local governments having a role to play in both.

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has adopted a land-use policy regarding flood protection under the authority of its Urban and Rural Planning Act of 2000 (SNL 2000, c U-8 s3(1)). It uses similar language and has a common intent as Nova Scotia’s policy statement (Schedule B, Municipal Government Act SNS 1998, c 18), perhaps reflecting shared roots in the Canada Flood Damage Reduction Program, though Newfoundland and Labrador includes some additional development restrictions. However, it is not as comprehensive as New Brunswick’s new Flood Risk Reduction Strategy, which places a greater emphasis on resiliency.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Flood Risk Area Policy requires all development in the province to be undertaken in a manner that reduces the flood risk. It places a balanced responsibility for this on the land owner and the local government to ensure this occurs:

It is the prime responsibility of the property owner to avoid development in areas of flood risk and, in instances where development already exists or is permitted, to undertake appropriate flood proofing. Municipal Councils and all other agencies with development control authority are responsible for strictly controlling development in line with this Provincial Land Use Policy and for ensuring that all owners and users of property are aware of the risks of developing in an area that is subject to flooding.

(Newfoundland & Labrador, 2018, p. 2, s1)

Like Nova Scotia’s policy statement, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Flood Risk Area Policy sets out development guidelines for the floodway and flood fringe as defined by the Canada Flood Risk Reduction Program. In addition to restricting land use to avoid any increase in vulnerable residential uses or hazardous facilities (including gas stations), the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has acknowledged the vulnerability of schools. The other valuable modifications are the inclusion of “police stations, fire stations and other facilities that may provide emergency services during a flood including government offices” (Newfoundland & Labrador, 2018, p. 2, s3(b)(i)(2)) and the clear limit on government decisions that “Crown Land shall not be released for any development involving building in either the floodway or floodway fringe” (Newfoundland & Labrador, 2018, p. 2, s4).

While both Nova Scotia’s and Newfoundland and Labrador’s policies promote mitigation and limit the expansion of existing uses, Newfoundland and Labrador extends this more explicitly into the recovery period by placing limits on the repair or replacement of existing structures that have been “damaged beyond economic repair” (Newfoundland & Labrador, 2018, p. 2, s5). Furthermore, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador provides clearer instructions for areas of known flood risk then concludes with a second layer of oversight by requiring ministerial approval of developments.

The Water Resources Act (SNL 2002, c W-4.01) also has a series of provisions regarding the designation and management of flood risk areas (s33) and flood control areas (s34) that complement the provincial land-use policy on flood-risk areas. The Urban and Rural Planning Act of 2000 (SNL 2000, c U-8) provides the legal authority to create planning districts and undertake development and zoning measures; and although it does not explicitly discuss flooding or other hazards, it does establish the framework in which local authorities will implement the requirements of the province’s flood-risk policies.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Emergency Services Act (SNL 2008, c E-9.1) is, as its full title states, “an act to provide for the organization and administration of emergency services in the Province.” It replaced the former emergency measures legislation and provides the authority for the declaration of local, regional, and provincial states of emergency. It also requires local authorities to have an “emergency management plan” (SNL 2008, c E-9.1 s5(1)) “which is intended to prepare for, respond to, mitigate the effects of and recover from an emergency and to provide for the health, safety and well-being of persons and the protection of property and the environment” (SNL 2008, c E-9.1 s2(h)). In this definition the phrase “mitigate the effects of” seems related to reducing the harm during and after an impact rather than the reduction of the risk of an impact occurring. The second portion of the definition focusing on the “well-being” of people and the “protection of property and the environment” could be interpreted to as being aimed at pre-event measures, especially considering the Emergency Management Framework for Canada (Public Safety Canada, 2011) places mitigation and prevention together and speaks of protecting lives, property, and the environment.

Canada’s North

Canada’s three northern territories—Yukon, Northwest Territory, and Nunavut—operate under slightly different conditions than the provinces. Originally administered by the federal government, “federal statutes have established a legislative assembly and executive council for each territory and province-like powers are increasingly being transferred or ‘devolved’ to territorial governments by the Government of Canada” (Government of Canada, 2018). As the hazard-scape in the far north is quite different than Manitoba or the other provinces, in terms of both the hazard agents and the vulnerability, only a cursory look at the related legislation is warranted, although each example yields some interesting ideas.

In the Yukon, land-use management is primarily administered through the Municipal Act (RSY 2002, c 154) and the Subdivision Act (RSY 2002, c 209). Both of these acts empower the Subdivision Regulations (YOIC 1999/77), which requires the suitability of the land to be consider in terms of several criteria including “any potential hazards such as flooding, erosion, subsidence, landslides, wildland fires, avalanches, or similar risks” (YOIC 1999/77 s8(d)). The Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act (RSY 2002, c 34) is purely response oriented and does not address mitigation.

Replacing a more traditional planning act, the Northwest Territories province has a Community Planning and Development Act (S.N.W.T. 2011, c.22), which states that community plans prepared and adopted by local authorities must “contain statements of policy respecting the management of any environmentally sensitive lands or lands subject to natural hazards such as flood or slope instability” (S.N.W.T. 2011, c.22 s4(1)(c)) and these areas must be mapped (S.N.W.T. 2011, c.22 s4(2)(b)). This is a straightforward requirement to identify hazardous lands as an integral part of planning. Unfortunately, the Civil Emergency Measures Act (RSNWT 1988, c C-9) does not offer up any further innovations with regard to hazard mitigation.

The newest jurisdiction in Canada, Nunavut, used to be a part of the Northwest Territories and is still in the process of transitioning from that body of legislation to its own unique legislation. This creates an opportunity for many of the new ideas regarding emergency management to be integrated into Nunavut’s legislation. One interesting variation from the language more common in provincial legislation is Nunavut’s six-part definition of an emergency management program (Emergency Measures Act, SNu 2007, c.10 s1(1)).

This is important as it not only differentiates between proactive mitigation aimed at reducing hazards (s1(1)(a)) and prevention actions aimed at stopping an event (s1(1)(b)), it also makes a distinction between pre-event hazard mitigation (s1(1)(a)) and the efforts to reduce damage that takes place during an emergency(s1(1)(e)). This level of clarity regarding the differences between addressing the overall risk of a particular hazard, preventing a specific occurrence of that hazard, and dealing with the consequences of an impact of that hazard, is useful and without precedent in Canada. The act also includes a section outlining the requirement of a municipality to identify risks and manage them with an emergency management program. When this is fully implemented, local emergency programs in Nunavut will be risk based and contain clear hazard mitigation components.

Unfortunately, Nunavut’s Planning Act (RSNWT (Nu) 1988, c P-7) still reflects the older Northwest Territories’ legislation and not the innovations of the Community Planning and Development Act (SNWT 2011, c.22). The Planning Act in place in Nunavut places some restrictions on building locations to prevent flooding (s15(1)(d)(ii)), but it is not an all-hazards approach nor is hazard mitigation integrated into the planning process.

Analysis of Hazard Governance in Canada

Hazard governance in Canada is inconsistently structured and administrated. The jurisdictional separation of responsibilities results in the federal government and each of the provincial and territorial governments approaching hazard governance and the broader emergency management tasks independently. While the government of Canada has produced a Natural Hazard Mitigation Strategy, the inability of the federal government to impose policies on provincial and territorial governments means that it has not been able to secure anything more than general agreement on principles. Even the introduction of federal funding linked to the goals of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Strategy has not led to the kind of legislative reform that will be necessary for Canada to truly have a national approach to hazard governance.

At the provincial and territorial level there is such a significant variation in approaches that it is difficult to even compare the relevant legislation, regulations, and policies. Within provincial and territorial land-use planning legislation there is a tendency to address spatially bounded hazards such as flooding or slope instability that are convenient to integrate into zoning maps and other planning tools. Natural hazards that are less connected to specific locations, such as tornados that can occur across the Canadian prairies, as well as in southern Ontario, remain a challenge for hazard governance constrained by land-use practices determined and implemented at the local municipal level.

Compounding these limitations is the lack of integration of hazard governance into provincial emergency management legislation. With the exception of Quebec’s Civil Protection Act (R.S.Q., c S-2.3) and Nunavut’s Emergency Measures Act (SNu 2007, c.10 s1(1)) the provinces are fairly consistent in focusing their emergency management legislation on response powers and the preparedness activities necessary to implement such powers during an emergency. Hazard governance through pre-event mitigation or as a component of post-impact recovery is omitted from the emergency management legislation even though the typical legal tools needed for hazard governance, such as zoning and development procedures, are in the hands of the same local elected officials who are granted extraordinary response powers to deal with hazard impacts. The opportunity for local governments to implement risk reduction measures, with appropriate legislative and financial support from the provincial and federal governments, remains unrealized.

The main factor acting on Canada’s hazard governance, within frame of the constitutional division of responsibilities, is the lack of integration between provinces’ emergency management legislation (with its common focus on response activities) and the community planning legislation that is limited to addressing a few specific hazards at best. Canada’s hazard governance at the provincial and territorial level therefore fails to fulfill its potential; this shortfall is likely to persist in the absence of meaningful leadership from the government of Canada and legislative reforms at the provincial level.

Further Reading

Burby, R. J. (Ed.). (1998). Cooperating with nature: Confronting natural hazards with land-use planning for sustainable communities. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.Find this resource:

Henstra, D. (Ed.). (2013). Multilevel governance and emergency management in Canadian municipalities (Vol. 6). Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.Find this resource:

Masterson, J. H., Peacock, W. G., Van Zandt, S. S., Grover, H., Schwarz, L. F., & Cooper, J. T. (2014). Planning for community resilience. Washington, DC: Island Press.Find this resource:

Pearce, L. (2003). Disaster management and community planning, and public participation: How to achieve sustainable hazard mitigation. Natural Hazards, 28(2–3), 211–228.Find this resource:

Schwab, J. (2010). Hazard mitigation: Integrating best practices into planning. American Planning Association.Find this resource:

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Appendix 1: Legislation