06.24.2013 09:22 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: disasters, political and natural

In Alberta, no elections are happening next week. People are focused on more important things — like the tragic loss of life attributed to the great flood of 2013, or the extraordinary damage that was caused by it. At times like this, no one wants to hear about politics.

But politics intrudes, just the same. Chances are weighed, assessments get made. Of such terrible events are political careers made and lost.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has represented a Calgary riding as both a Reform Party and Conservative Party MP, is not expected to campaign again until May 2015. Premier Alison Redford, elected with a comfortable majority in April 2012, need not seek the judgment of the people until spring 2016, or later. Only Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is facing voters soon — in October of this year, possibly against arch-conservative talk radio host Dave Rutherford.

On Friday, Harper, Redford and Nenshi met the media not far from the surging Bow River. Harper and Nenshi sported identical shirts, although the Conservative leader also (oddly) wore a military flight jacket. Redford stood between Harper and a gaggle of his caucus colleagues, some of whom — like leadership aspirant Jason Kenney — had actively and energetically conspired to defeat Redford in the last provincial election. If Redford was uncomfortable showing her back to Kenney, she didn’t show it.

Instead, the three looked as politicians so often do when natural disasters strike: uncomfortable and uncertain. Worried about the people they are privileged to represent, to be sure. But also worried, just a little bit, about their own futures, too.

The Calgary Herald, however, was pleased. “Harper, Redford and Nenshi show true leadership in the flood crisis,” its Monday editorial enthused, adding – in a bit of overwrought sentimentality – that their collective leadership “is consoling and also contagious, for the sight of their strength inspires optimism and confidence.”

Really? That may come as news to someone in my former hometown, surveying raw sewage in their basement and contemplating an insurance policy (like many) that will not cover the clean-up. Nor is it likely to “inspire or console” a voter who is wondering, as he or she surveys a darkened and dirty downtown, why governments shelved a comprehensive 2006 report on how to avoid precisely what has happened in the 2013 flood — written after the last big flood, in 2005.

The Herald’s purple prose notwithstanding, the jury is still out. If relief and rebuilding efforts drag on too long — if governments do not do what Albertans expect of them — then there will be hell to pay. Political heads will roll.

Last year’s U.S. presidential election showed what can happen when politicians come together to deliver real and measurable results, post-disaster. The destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 likely re-elected President Barack Obama — and helped propel New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into frontrunner status in the race to be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.

Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney — who had earlier called for the elimination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — paid a steep price. Conservatives and libertarians, take note: After something like Sandy hits, voters expect government to step up.

In the difficult days and weeks ahead, it remains to be seen who will step up to make Alberta whole again. Convivial press conferences on the banks of the Bow won’t cut it. For starters, Harper, Redford and Nenshi may want to dust off that shelved 2006 flood-mitigation plan.

If nothing else, their political futures may depend on it.


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    Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    Watch the news, and see what`s happening there Warren.

    I think you have been away from Calgary too long, and forgotten what Calgarians, Albertans, and even that crew of volunteer pumpers from Saskatchewan that drove all night to help.

    They don`t wait for governments in Alberta.

    A call was put out last night for 300 volunteers to meet at McMahon Stadium. Two thousand five hundred showed up.

    C`mon out for the Stampede and refresh your memory honey.

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      patrick says:

      Oh good, so the useless government can return home and leave to the volunteers to fix everything. Excellent. And volunteers showing up in Calgary is considered something special. Strange since volunteers habitually show up at disasters around the world all the time.
      Wonder what it is about Calgary that makes this special?

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        Elisabeth Lindsay says:

        The people, Patrick.

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          Kaspar Juul says:

          People help each other out when it’s needed. It’s a Canadian thing not just a prairie thing. Is there really a need to put yourself on a pedestal in this case?

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          jen says:

          I’m struggling to remember a North American story with the headline ” Horrible Disaster Happens: No One Helps.” I can promise you that in the event of a similar horrible disaster anywhere else in the country, the same response would happen anywhere in this country. If you think otherwise, that might be what makes YOU unique.

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    M5SLIB says:

    Warren I kind of asked you a similar question on twitter about the subject, and I’m glad you wrote the article. None of these leaders have been particularly impressive from my point of view, which, to be fair, is very far away from the situation. Nenshi has been very involved seemingly, but something about his press conferences that I’ve watched say that he’s been a bit too happy go lucky. He often makes quips, and while it’s good to keep perspective and not be defeated, it’s I think it’s important to look strong and in control. To me, he seems somewhat effective, but he’s not reflecting the gravity of what people are going through. Redford, seems uncomfortable. Where Nenshi, for better or worse, is reacting to the disaster in line with his personality, Redford looks like she’s trying to make a political calculation that she hasn’t completely figured out. Nevertheless, she seems to be present and willing to be there, either by duty or personal volition. As for Harper, he hasn’t stood out more than other people currently or formerly in his party. I was watching Sunday morning political talk shows, and they had Kenney, Mckay, and even Jim Prentice (which opens up another question), but I didn’t see them play any clips of Harper. That is unless I missed it. Either way, he shouldn’t be jockeying for position with current and former Ministers. He should be front and centre, and that doesn’t mean just suiting up in military garb. I’m glad you used the Obama/Christie example because they were so strong and in charge in their reactions. Throughout Harper’s tenure, he’s relied on leadership as one of his cornerstones. Natural disasters are one the the prime opportunities to show leadership, and right now he’s playing third fiddle to a rookie Mayor and an ameteurish Premier.

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    Will El Demudio says:

    Hey you forgot: “Former President George W. Bush said he made a “huge mistake” in not stopping in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in allowing photographers to take pictures of him looking at New Orleans as he flew over the city.”

    The memory of all those poor black folks abandoned in New Orleans propelled team Obama as much as anything else.

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    Sb says:

    From the “Turnabout is Fair Play” file, it is refreshing to see the media and commentators focussing on the Prime Minister’s (and Mayor’s) attire.

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    GFMD says:

    I dare Stephen Harper to treat this like a disaster on a native reserve – yell about how much $ they already get.

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      billg says:

      Alberta doesnt receive money, they give it.
      And, a nightmare scenario would be Alberta having to spend billions to rebuild and not being able to help out with equalization payments for a few years.

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        GFMD says:

        if you think Alberta receives no public funds you are an idiot.

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      West Guy says:

      Check your news, this is happening on a native reserve – Siksika First Nations is west of Calgary and was hit pretty hard.

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    Beth Higginson says:

    People seem to be happy with Mayor Nenshi’s involvement in this crisis including my daughter who is a chemical engineer in Calgary. Friends of mine on Facebook wish Mayor Nenshi was the Mayor of Toronto rather than Rob Ford. My 22 year old nephew (from Calgary) who is apolitical got involved with helping elect Mayor Nenshi a couple of years ago


    Premier Redford and Mayor Nenshi are doing the right things with regards to this disaster.

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      MCBellecourt says:

      Nenshi’s mayoral victory was nothing short of stunning. Didn’t he use social media almost exclusively to get his message out? If I recall correctly, his campaign was run on a shoestring budget.

      I checked out some of the videos he ran on YouTube during his campaign out of curiousity. They were a lot of fun to watch, but they also told me a lot about the guy. At the time, he was helping care for his ailing father, who was pretty much incapacitated at the time. This says much about his character.

      He has raised the bar on leadership during a crisis, that’s for sure. If he should ever choose to run federally, Canada would be very, very fortunate indeed. He’s a brilliant man with a big heart.

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    Rene says:

    Insurance policies, both homeowner and tenant, carry a benefit called additional living expenses, intended to compensate policyholders in the event of relocation and extraordinary expenses due to disaster, but only to the extent that the primary cause is deemed to be an insured peril. Overland flood loss is deliberately excluded on homeowner policies in Canada. So here we have a situation where tens of thousands are displaced due to natural disaster, most of whom presumably carry homeowner or tenant policies of insurance, but their financial losses due to relocation and temporary assistance, as opposed to their property losses resulting from the damage, are not covered by their insurance policies and they have to look to the provincial relief fund for assistance.
    Something is seriously wrong with this picture, and it is surprising that very few are challenging the Canadian insurance industry for passing such losses on to the province. What is their rationale for excluding overland flood loss on homeowner policies when they are prepared to accept such risk on commercial business policies? The provincial relief fund was set up to protect the few who suffered catastrophic loss and either carried no insurance or had inadequate coverage, not the entire population of the province of Alberta. So here the province is stepping in and covering losses which the insurance industry is expected to cover, but deliberately excludes. If such is the case, the province may as well step in, issue the insurance coverage to homeowners and collect the premiums.
    Now some homeowners may obtain compensation if they succeed in convincing their insurer their loss is the result of sewer backup, not widespread overland flooding, but such compensation generally has a low value limit and would not extend to any losses beyond the basement, as sewer backup is not intended to cover flood damage to ground floor living rooms and kitchens.

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    West Guy says:

    You have to read the recommendations and hold them up against this flood to see if it would have done any good. Given the sheer amount of rain that fell in such a short time, a lot of the recommendations about planning, warnings and risk zones probably wouldn’t have helped. The recommendation to stop selling Crown land in flood zones would have done nothing to help High River or Calgary as both existed prior to 2005. Recommendations to strengthen the “buyer beware” approach to new developments on flood plains probably wouldn’t go over, politically, too well right now “Sorry, the new house you just bought was on a flood plain, no funds for you!” Anyone who thinks full implementation of all the recommendations in the report would have made an appreciable difference this time, given the volume of water and the speed of the flooding, needs to look at the report again.

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    Jon Adams says:

    Speaking of Rutherford, it sounds like he had a bit of a meltdown on air this morning and he’s taking early retirement.

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