In late June 2013, six creeks in the town of Canmore flooded leaving a
nasty mess. Most individual homes had flood insurance, those without
had to pay out of pocket. There is a sense that – in the future – events
like this should be avoided. So, acting in accordance with the
zeitgeist of democratic politics, the municipal government of Canmore
is claiming ownership on the unowned waterways and mountains of Canmore
and creating a central plan to mitigate future disasters through mountain hydrology.
Councillor Vi Sandford was the only bureaucrat to vote against the
plan, claiming that the land in question (and thus solution) belongs to
the provincial government. Speaking of the area that flooded most
heavily in Canmore, Sandford said: “The Cougar Creek issue is something
we have inherited from other levels of government… We need to push this
to the next level of government.” In other words, centralization of
power and authority are more desirable. Also, $600,000 is a lot of money
to spend on something so risky.
Councillor Hans Helder recognizes this problem. Despite voting for
the plan, he “expressed concerns” over how $600,000 will be spent and
what it will accomplish. “I fully support this scientific research, but
again, the major players need to be at the table.” Who exactly are the
major players? Municipal bureaucrats or individual property owners?
Helder brought up a 2008 hydrology report on Cougar Creek that
recommended $6.5 million in mitigations that the province and CP rail
failed to finance. Clearly, the land-ownership is in question – does
Cougar Creek belong to the provincial government or is it the
responsibility of the Canmore municipality? Should CP rail contribute to
maintaining this area since they have monopoly rights on the railroad
that runs through it and thus a clear financial interest in the
Councillor Joanna McCallum insists that “we” are the government and
that, “I think the people of Canmore would agree we need to take the
lead in putting our town back together.” What this actually means is
that a town bureaucrat picks a team of consultants from BGC Engineering
that will manage the process. The municipality will also choose a panel
of experts to oversee – that is, interfere with – the work done by
BGC. The project manager, Mathias Jacob, told the council that this is
not a technical problem. “The good news is the problem is definitely
solvable,” Jacob said. “The outcome in the end depends on this entire
Well then, let’s discuss the entire process. Is mountain hydrology
the best means of mitigation? Canmore’s town council think it is. But
without price signals how could they know? Prices are information
surrogates that communicate preferences and scarcity. Prices arise when
individuals voluntarily exchange with each other. The municipal
government taxes and destroys this information exchanging process. If
Canmore’s town council really want to serve the public, the property in
question should be privatized. Or at the very least, the municipality
can retain ownership but designate their organization to price signals
by ending mandatory payments and abolishing their monopoly power.
If Canmore’s town council recognized the importance of private
property, then they would relinquish control of these ecosystems – not
to the provincial government – but the individual residents of Canmore.
And how could private property owners mitigate future flooding while
keeping in mind the dynamic balances in nature? For starters, mitigation
plans would be more numerous and take on a variety of techniques. Price
signals signify profit and loss – whether certain actions are using
resources sustainably or not. Residents could form organizations for
projects they are incapable of financing on their own – such as access
to land in which no one owns but is influential for mountain hydrology.
Private projects cannot pollute other private property, whereas the
municipality can ignore these externalities.
The best means to avoiding flooding is to live somewhere where it
almost never floods. The Rocky Mountains are not one of these areas.
Experimental projects can be performed by those private property owners
who wish transform their property to avoid the – seemingly – inevitable.
There are inherent checks and balances built into the market that makes
this process not only profitable, but sustainable. Currently, the
municipality extorts $600,000 from individuals to finance their choice
of capitalists. These capitalists do not own the land and thus can
externalize mountain hydrology’s unintended consequences and long-term
issues. In addition, mountain hydrology is the only plan whereas a free
market would produce multiple plans and comes with a built-in mechanism
to weed out the bad. If Canmore’s councilmen and women are genuinely
trying to work in the best interests of the town, then they should look
to solutions that reward individual autonomy and diminish monopoly and