A destroyed pick up truck sits in the drive way of a burned out house in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Saturday, May 7, 2016

Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary have each appointed its own resilience orchestrator, or Chief Resilience Officer (CRO). Their job? To support the goal of the 100RC, which is to understand and prepare for the climate, social, technological, economic and geopolitical challenges of tomorrow. (Photo by Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Canada | Sustainability

Large Canadian cities are preparing for some of the worst catastrophes

From floods to terrorist attacks, Chief Resilience Officers are helping four major metros brace for several scenarios

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How a business should prepare for the worst isn’t always clear (See When crisis hits, a strong business continuity plan can save your company), but for big cities, it’s increasingly imperative they must build resilience to possible shocks. Even more important is to develop adaptive capacity to respond to a wide variety of catastrophic events, from large-scale cyberattacks to earthquakes. 

That’s why—after being selected from a long list of international entries as part of 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program challenge—Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary have each appointed its own resilience orchestrator, or Chief Resilience Officer (CRO). Their job? To support the goal of the 100RC, which is to understand and prepare for the climate, social, technological, economic and geopolitical challenges of tomorrow.

These CROs are responsible for shepherding the multi-faceted resilience building process, including identifying challenges, bringing together stakeholders (e.g. government officials, non-profits, etc.) to support initiatives and applying a “resilience lens” to ensure resources are used holistically. Together, the CROs from these four cities have formed the “Team Canada Committee”, a working group on best practices that collaborates on shared challenges “in public health, immigration, social resilience and adaptation to climate change.”

“When we chose Montreal to join the 100RC Network, we saw a city poised to address its vulnerability to chronic stresses and acute shocks,” writes Michael Berkowitz, president of 100RC, in Montreal’s Resilient Strategy Report (published in June 2018). “Since then, we have seen a city primed to serve as a model of resilience for other cities in Canada and around the world.”

The “Team Canada Committee” cities all face a number of unique challenges, but with a common goal: to build a resilient metropolis and learn from each other’s experiences. Toronto, which is described as a “growing city”, faces 13 different challenges, including a lack of affordable housing, economic inequality and traffic congestion. Vancouver has eight challenges, including earthquakes and a lack of social cohesion. Calgary must contend with nine challenges, including an aging infrastructure and risk of drought. But Montreal tops the list, with 33 different shocks and stresses. 

In addition to facing the same challenges as Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, Montreal also has to contend with rioting and civil unrest, unemployment and displaced populations/migrants. The Montreal report, which was issued by city CRO Louise Bradette, outlines the threats facing the city and proposes a series of actions including: reviewing regulation around the transportation of dangerous goods, optimizing the movement of emergency vehicles in emergency situations, better supporting businesses in the event of a disaster and better predicting extreme weather events, which are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change. (See CPA Canada’s case study, City of Montreal: Adapting to climate change (Case study 6), for more)

One of the advantages of the 100RC initiative is the networking opportunities it provides. CROs are often surprised to discover they share challenges with cities they would never have suspected. For example, Elliott Cappell, Toronto’s CRO, wondered in an interview with the National Observer whether the city’s building code adhered “to a climate that may no longer exist in the city,” much like in Houston. According to Cappell, Houston’s building code may have worked fine for decades—allowing contractors to use low-priced materials—but given that the city has been hit by multiple once-in-500-year storms in the past 20 years, he questions whether the code is still “up to a 21st-century standard.”

These sentiments are echoed by Brad Stevens, deputy city manager and CRO for Calgary, which experienced flooding and a devastating “Snowtember” in 2014. “The Canadian cities [Toronto, Montreal Vancouver and Calgary] have formed Team Canada and working with the other Canadian cities has been valuable, not only because we face some similar issues, but we also work with similar political systems and can help bring focus to issues that may be relevant to the rest of the country,” says Stevens.

“We have monthly meetings as Team Canada to discuss our progress, our challenges and opportunities […] together and individually […] and we can pick up the phone and chat with our fellow team members when we need to,” he adds. “This ability to work as a team across different parts of the country has created a camaraderie that will strengthen our relationships across all the cities beyond the resilience strategies. That in a way makes us more resilient.”


Visit our climate change disclosure and decision making resource page to learn about CPA Canada’s multi-year initiative to support enhanced climate-related disclosures.


The impact of severe weather events and cyberthreats is taking hold—and businesses will not be spared. Like cities with a large number of residents and aging infrastructure, major corporations have to protect their assets, too—including their employees. Marc Duchesne, vice president, corporate security and responsibility at Bell Canada, outlines the company’s action plan and explains how the media giant has readied itself for worst-case scenarios.

1. Anticipate major crises  
“We have very detailed plans for all sorts of catastrophic scenarios, from cybersecurity attacks and terrorist threats to pandemics and strike actions,” says Duchesne. In each case, Bell adapts its response to the event, its severity and the responders involved (from senior management to external suppliers). It has even mapped out how to operate with a skeleton staff.

2. Develop a business continuity plan 
“We’ve identified 140 critical business functions (sites, units, IT systems, etc.) that are indispensable for client services,” says Duchesne. “For example, while we can’t do without agents who take repair calls in emergency situations, we may be able to wait 48 hours before resorting to a lawyer.”

All vice-presidents who head up critical functions have a business continuity plan so they can respond to any event, such as floods, fires, earthquakes or blizzards.

“When a fire broke out in late June 2018 on the roof of a building we occupy in downtown Montreal,” he says, “we identified seven critical functions in under 15 minutes, involving 39 employees, whom we relocated the very next morning.”

3. Manage emergencies 
“An armed person in one of our buildings, a suspicious package or a bomb threat—we have emergency procedures in place to respond to over 15 different likely scenarios,” says Duchesne. “We’re ready for anything.”