Quebec flooding: Legault won’t blame Ste-Marthe mayor for dike failure

“It’s not time for committees and commissions and forums — it’s time for action,” the premier said Tuesday.

QUEBEC — Now is not the time to start blaming municipal leaders such as the mayor of Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac for what they did and didn’t do in the lead-up to devastating flooding, Premier François Legault said Tuesday.

And he has ruled out the idea of holding an emergency debate or inquiry regarding the flood situation — the worst in the province’s history — saying now is the time for action, not talk.

Announcing floodwaters in most of Quebec are either “stable or improving,” Legault said nobody could have predicted the dike protecting the town of Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac from the waters of the Lake of Two Mountains would fail as it did on Saturday.

He noted the dike was repaired in 2009 and experts determined about 3.5 kilometres of it would need repairs after the last big flood in 2017.

He said the mayor of the town of 2,200 citizens had researched which programs were available to pay for the work and filed for permission to proceed as recently as February.

“I don’t think now is the time to start blaming anyone,” Legault told reporters following a tour of the government’s emergency operations centre in Quebec City.

“We are in a situation where nobody thought it was that urgent and what happened Saturday night would happen. We will conduct a post-mortem and ask questions about dikes in general in Quebec.”

Part of that followup will involve looking for ways for small cities with limited resources to get the help they need in order to be able to make the right decisions.

The government has not decided whether it will allow Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac to rebuild the dike, Legault said. For now, only the temporary dikes installed to contain the damage have been authorized.

Legault added that before a permanent dike can be rebuilt, a plan will have to be studied at length.

“We have to look at the environmental impact caused by the construction of such dikes, and potential damages.”

Water levels in most of Quebec are either “stable or improving,” Premier François Legault said Tuesday, alongside Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault. Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Legault made his comments after Ste-Marthe Mayor Sonia Paulus said she had put in a request with the government in 2017 to modernize the dike but that the approval process was slow.

When the dike was breached Saturday, hundreds of homes were flooded within minutes, forcing more than 6,000 people to leave over the course of the weekend.

Paulus, who spoke to Legault again Tuesday morning, has said she did everything in her power to have the dike repaired. Reports have started to emerge of a possible class-action suit against the town in the wake of the disaster.

But Legault and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault insisted the situation is generally getting better across Quebec.

“We seem to be seeing light at the end of the tunnel in most regions,” Guilbault said. “With the exception of the Lake of Two Mountains and the Ottawa River, all the waterways are seeing levels drop.”

Legault quashed a suggestion by Québec solidaire to hold an emergency debate on the flooding situation.

“It’s not time for committees and commissions and forums — it’s time for action,” he said. “I think we have all the resources to have an action plan and make sure we find permanent solutions.

“I don’t want to have these problems repeating every two years.”

He added the government will work with municipalities and professionals directly to determine the way forward.

“I don’t think (Québec solidaire co-spokesperson) Manon Massé and other politicians can be a lot of help drawing up this plan.”

What is urgent, Legault said, is redrawing Quebec’s maps to update what is and is not a flood zone, in order to prevent further construction in risky areas. The federal government has also said it wants more permanent solutions to flooding.

Legault once again urged citizens fed up with being flooded to consider the Quebec government’s offer to buy them out. Those who wish to move will get up to $200,000 for their houses and $50,000 for the land.

People who take their chances and stay now know they won’t get unlimited tax dollars to rebuild after multiple floods, he noted.

“After you get the (maximum) $100,000, you won’t get any money from taxpayers. If you can afford to support those additional costs, it will be from your own pocket — not from the government or taxpayers.”

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