Province names “special advisor” on flooding

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The Ontario government says it is “putting people first” by taking “swift action” to address concerns from those affected by this spring’s historic flooding.

MPP John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care and MPP for Kanata-Carleton, announced Thursday that Doug McNeil has been named Ontario’s “special advisor” on flooding.

McNeil will advise the province on ways to reduce the impacts of flooding and ensure communities can recover quickly.

“We heard from people across the province and saw first-hand the damage caused by flooding in so many communities,” said Yakabuski.

“We want to help Ontarians protect what matters most, and the special advisor will help better prepare our province for flooding in the future.”

Yakabuski said McNeil will assess the current roles and responsibilities of governments, agencies and organizations involved in flood management, including any opportunities for improvement; review feedback received; identify focused recommendations; and ensure all recommendations are consistent with the province’s ability to implement them.

“Flooding is a serious problem that is becoming increasingly common as Ontario experiences more frequent extreme weather events,” the province said in the announcement.

“The province held Flooding Engagement Sessions earlier this year in Muskoka, Pembroke, and Ottawa to hear from municipalities and industry leaders on how to better prepare for and respond to floods. The special advisor will build on input from those sessions as well as feedback from the public.”

During a public meeting on this year’s spring flooding in Pembroke last month, one speaker suggested that what is needed, and what has been lacking so far, is a “sense of urgency” to address the problem.

“I can’t believe that if this was happening in the Greater Toronto Area with five million people, there wouldn’t be more urgency to deal with it,” he said.

But Yakabuski said there is a sense of urgency.

“We do need to find a way to figure this out,” he said. “I don’t think anything should be off the table, but it also has to be something that can be achieved.”

Yakabuski said that he was in the process of appointing an independent advisor who would review all aspects of this year’s floods and make recommendations on how the province should move forward.

Yakabuski said that whatever comes forward, however, it would have to be done in conjunction with the province of Quebec and the federal government.

“There’s no wall in the middle of the Ottawa River. It affects us all,” he said.

“To say what’s going to be done would be impossible for anyone here to say. It’s going to take some time to figure out all the variables.”

As special advisor, McNeil’s experience includes 36 years in public service with the city of Winnipeg and province of Manitoba. Positions held include Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, Vice President of Engineering and Construction and Vice-President of Hydraulics with the Manitoba Floodway Authority.

McNeil has been involved in many aspects of water resource planning, operations, and management, including hydraulics, hydrology, stormwater management, and water control structures.

He played key roles in the 1997 “Flood of the Century” on the Red River and led the Floodway Expansion project which included a provincial review of floodway operating rules and flood protection studies of mitigation measures for Winnipeg.

As Manitoba’s Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, McNeil was responsible for a vast infrastructure network including drains and culverts, multi-functional dams and reservoirs, diversion channels and flood pumping stations.

He was also responsible for hydrologic forecasting and the emergency measures organization, which involved business continuity planning, critical infrastructure and cyber security.

McNeil holds both Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Engineering and has received numerous distinguished awards related to design and construction of various components of work on Manitoba’s flood structures including the Red River Floodway Expansion Project.

He recently retired as chief administrative officer of the city of Winnipeg.