Ranticles: “There but for the grace of Duff Roblin…”

By Canticle

RanticlesWinnipeg is on a flood plain (as is most of North Dakota). That means flooding happens. Few people in Winnipeg (and fewer still in North Dakota) probably appreciate the fact that were in not for the kind of Manitoba Government of the sixties, Winnipeg would have been in roughly the same shape as New Orleans is today.

From 1958-1967, Duff Roblin was Premier of Manitoba (analagous to Governor of a State). He was a Red Tory (in Canada, the Red Tories are members of the Progressive Conservatives who opposed small government ethics, believed in Social Programs, and generally concerned themselves with nothing more than financial conservatism. Duff Roblin admitted in his notes that he was more left wing than the Douglas Campbell Liberals of the time).

Winnipeg had previously flooded to a high degree in 1950. Duff Roblin fought to protect the city of Winnipeg with an audacious and colossal project know as the Red River Floodway. Millions of taxpayer dollars, millions of tonnes of earth to be moved, the plan would provide a floodway that would divert the flow of floodwater around the city of Winnipeg. It was voraciously opposed by financial and social Conservatives in his own party as a needless waste of time and money, by the Liberals on the basis of cost, and by many of the same kinds of people that have for years opposed providing the needed flood protection funds in New Orleans.

Duff Roblin's government went ahead with the plan. By the time it was completed, the project had cost $63 million dollars. It was derisively called 'Duff's Ditch' by his political opponents (the phrase Duff's Ditch is used today with a lot more affection).

Since it's construction, it has been operated 19 times, and saved taxpayers an estimated $8 billion in flood damage prevention. In 1997, while Grand Forks had to be evacuated and abandoned for weeks due to floodwaters, Winnipeg escaped with little damage, though areas outside the Floodway had to be evacuated.

The current government is expanding the Floodway in a $240 million project to protect against a theoretical once in 700 years flood. It may never happen in our lifetime. It may never happen, period. Scientists, however, have noted that with the warming of the world’s oceans, precipitation in Manitoba is likely to rise, winters are likely to see more snowfall, and as a result the conditions for flooding are only going to increase, not decrease. The warming of the earth's oceans will only increase the power and severity of hurricanes (and hurricanes DO have an impact on Canada, the remnants of those storms funnel up through the central United States, and gradual dissipate after hitting southern Manitoba and western and Central Ontario. The Category 1 storm we had on Sunday night was most likely the dying gasps of what had been Katrina). I for one would rather our Government spend money now to deal with potential disaster than spend billions more later to clean up after a real one.

Canticle on September 4, 2005.