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Disaster payouts 'canary in the coal mine' for future weather: insurance head

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

CALGARY - The president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada is offering a gloomy forecast of more extreme weather in the years to come and is urging municipalities to fix crumbling storm-water infrastructure to prepare.

"The numbers would indicate the possibility is becoming more the reality. We've seen a change in weather patterns ... the experts that we've consulted say that we can expect more severe weather across the country," Don Forgeron said Wednesday following a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

"We can choose to ignore it — bury your head in the sand and not do anything about it — or we can take a look at what's happened and use that as a bit of a guide going forward."

Forgeron's prediction seemed especially fitting in Alberta — a natural catastrophe capital of sorts when it comes to insurance payouts.

"Here in Alberta you can expect more drought where you've had a history of that over the last 100 years or so," he said. "At the other end of the spectrum, you can expect more weather in the form of hail and rain."

Annual payouts from flooding, fire, hail and windstorms increased from $100 million about 10 years ago to $1 billion between 2009 and 2012. Alberta accounted for 67 per cent of disaster payouts in Canada.

Last year, hail storms across Alberta caused $530 million in damage. In November 2011, officials had to shut down Calgary's downtown core because extreme high winds blew windows out of buildings. Earlier that year, a wildfire ravaged the community of Slave Lake, Alta., with losses pegged at over $700 million.

"The insurance industry claim payouts are the canary in the coal mine," Fogeron said. "It's a bit of a sign or an indication of how much the cost is to communities across the country and we've seen those numbers, especially here in Alberta, just skyrocket over the last four years or so."

Earlier this month, the Insurance Bureau confirmed that added weather costs have prompted some insurance companies to double the deductible for weather-related claims to as much as $3,000.

Forgeron deflected questions about whether Canadians can expect escalating insurance premiums. He said many insurers are being very "proactive" with their customers to make sure they are prepared for problems that can arise.

"We're doing what we can to keep costs down. It's my hope we will be able to limit those to an absolute minimum going forward, but if the past is any predictor we're going to see some nasty weather."

Forgeron said aging municipal storm water and sewer infrastructure is the big worry. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated there are $69 billion worth of outstanding repairs, he said.

On Wednesday, a major highway in Toronto, the Don Valley Parkway, had to be closed because heavy rains led to flooding. Speaking at a news conference, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said the flooding should "serve as a reminder why we must maintain investment in our aging infrastructure."

Forgeron echoed that point.

"While science has confirmed the weather is getting worse, we also know that aging storm water and sewer infrastructure failure is to blame for most of the damage."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130614/disaster-payouts-canary-the-coal-mine-future-weather-insuran