Flood zones | Owners with their mouths to water

(Baie-Saint-Paul) Mayors of Quebec are sounding the alarm for the Legault government to come to the aid of owners of residences located in areas of high risk of flooding, who fear being “trapped” with their homes in the wake of the withdrawal of Desjardins, one of the only financial institutions that still offered mortgage loans in this risky market.

Like many residents of Baie-Saint-Paul, Yves Giroux tasted it last spring. Water from the Gouffre River ravaged the ground floor of his century-old house. Since then, he has rolled up his sleeves and undertaken major work to protect his home against future floods. But the bills are piling up. The Ministry of Public Security’s assistance program is slow to pay him the amounts owed to him, and he is unable to get reimbursed for several related costs.


Yves Giroux

“We are fighting to preserve our heritage,” he says.

However, since the 1er February, Desjardins no longer lends to buy a property in a major flood zone (0-20 year zone). It was “one of the only financial institutions to do so,” underlines Chantal Corbeil, spokesperson for Desjardins Movement.

For experts, Desjardins’ decision is part of a global trend where insurers and mortgage lenders are protecting themselves from climate change.

But for Yves Giroux, the cooperative’s decision is a hard blow. And he believes it could convince other victims to simply have their homes demolished.

“If we give up and say that these houses […]we can no longer have a mortgage on it, well that’s great, we are destroying all the flood zones in Quebec,” he continues.


Last spring, water from the Gouffre River ravaged the ground floor of Yves Giroux’s house.

Already, its two neighbors have made this decision, and the City of Baie-Saint-Paul has given its approval to the demolition of the gîte at Clocheton, an emblematic building in the area, even if it still dreams of a buyer coming to save it.

Other owners are stunned. “We bought a fairly expensive property, and we found ourselves with this house which will not be resalable. It’s a concussion. For us, it’s a big shock to learn that,” says Michèle Bouzigon, who also lives on rue Saint-Joseph, one of the oldest in the city. “Demolished houses affect the social fabric, the shared pleasure of living there, it’s dramatic for many people,” adds M.me Bouzigon.


The City of Baie-Saint-Paul has approved the demolition of the Clocheton lodge.

For Lucie Goyer, it is the future of her house, built in 1862, that is at stake. She had almost finished repairing the damage from the floods, but she still has to pay to raise her house and make it immune. i.e. putting protective measures in place.

“I was crying earlier. I feel like I’m in a mousetrap. It’s a house that I love. I find myself struggling with this, and I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t put tens of thousands of dollars on a house when I don’t know if I’ll be able to resell it. I’m not a millionaire. […] It’s my retirement money that I risk losing,” she says.

A deplorable decision, says the mayor

The mayor of Baie-Saint-Paul, Michaël Pilote, is trying to save as many houses as possible in the historic heart of his city. For him, this choice of Desjardins is in contradiction with its cooperative mission. “In the regions, it’s not like in Montreal. In Baie-Saint-Paul, the majority of people are with Desjardins,” he says.

“We find the decision deplorable. Fingers crossed that things change. This is major for Quebec. There is no municipality in Quebec without a 0-20 year old sector [le risque d’inondation le plus élevé]. Tomorrow morning, if there is no mortgage lender, who will these people sell to? »


Last spring, the mayor of Baie-Saint-Paul, Michaël Pilote, gave François Legault a tour of the dike holding back the waves of the Gouffre River which had given way during the floods.

He emphasizes that the Quebec government supports his decision to raise the dike that protects the city center. “Half of my city center is 0-20 years old. We are not innocent, we are not saying not to worry about it. But you have to go about it on a case by case basis. When municipalities choose to install protective structures, this must be taken into account,” he believes.

Climate risks

For Desjardins, this is a business decision.

The only exception: buyers of properties whose sellers already have a Desjardins mortgage loan will be able to obtain financing “in certain cases”, but will have to put down a down payment of 35%. And the property must be “immunized,” meaning it must have been raised to prevent future flooding and be protected by protective measures such as an embankment.

“Climate risks are becoming increasingly important and causing substantial damage. Desjardins wants to support its members and clients while taking into account climate change and the risks they represent,” said Ms.me Basket.


Aerial view of the Gouffre River in Baie-Saint-Paul

Other institutions do not have a clear policy. Before authorizing a loan in a flood zone, the National Bank analyzes on a case-by-case basis “according to different factors, in particular the type of building and whether it is built according to the flood zone, the insurability of the loan and/ or the property and financial strength of the borrower,” says spokesperson Alexandre Guay.

Mayor Pilote, however, hopes that Desjardins will change its tune, because “the Desjardins Movement cannot abandon its members”, even if he says he understands the concerns of the financial cooperative.

Repercussions everywhere in Quebec

Even if this decision “represents less than 5% of mortgages” from Desjardins, it will have repercussions in the four corners of Quebec, deplores the Fédération québécoise des municipalities. Its president, Jacques Demers, requests intervention from the provincial government. “It is obvious that such a situation will pose a problem in many municipalities. We are convinced that an aid program will have to be developed to support the citizens and municipalities concerned,” he said.

Hundreds of municipalities in Quebec have high current zones, called in jargon “0-20 years”. They therefore have a 5% risk of being flooded each year, according to a register from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. It is, according to a definition from the Government of Quebec, a space located near a lake or a watercourse “which can be flooded when the waters rise (floods) due to a pile of ice or debris preventing water from flowing properly.” Let’s think, for example, of the cities affected by the floods of 2017 and 2019, in Outaouais, in the greater Montreal region or in Mauricie.


The floods that occurred in spring 2017 caused a lot of damage in Mauricie.

But specialists are not surprised by the change of direction of Desjardins, which is part of a global trend of “green finance”, indicates Danielle Pilette, associate professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) specializing in finance and municipal taxation. “There is a whole review of risks that is done by mortgage lenders and insurers, whether on the American east coast or in California, for example,” she says.

Whether due to riverbank erosion, rising sea levels or flooding caused by extreme precipitation, it is these types of business decisions that will “make citizens aware of the real risks of climate change,” she adds.

New cards in spring

Pascale Biron, professor of hydrogeomorphology at Concordia University, is not surprised either. She also affirms that in the case of Baie-Saint-Paul, the risk of flooding is historical, and not necessarily linked to climate change.


Significant flooding ravaged certain areas of Baie-Saint-Paul and its surrounding areas last spring.

She emphasizes that the Quebec government must present its new permanent regulation governing land use planning in flood zones in the spring, with updated cartography and new terms. Rather than talking about a 0-20 year, or 0-100 year flood zone, we will talk about “high” or “moderate” flood risk, for example.

Since many municipalities did not have flood zone maps, it is entirely possible that homeowners could find themselves in a high risk zone. “The goal of mapping flood zones is to protect people from themselves,” says M.me Biron.

But if everyone agrees to no longer allow new construction there, how can we help the residents who are already there? “That’s the million-dollar question. In certain cases, we can carry out immunization and direct water to parks. But in the sectors most at risk, we must accept the inevitable that the best solution is to get out of there,” says the professor.

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  • 40%
    Desjardins Group is the largest mortgage lender in Quebec. A study published in March 2023 estimated its market share in the entire province at 40% for the previous year. More popular in the regions, it still remains the number one lender in the Montreal metropolitan area with market shares of around 30%. “In other regions, such as Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, it issued more than 50% of mortgages,” mentions the JLR study.

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