The federal government says it will not contribute to additional compensation for farmers around Lake Manitoba who continue to suffer losses from the 2011 flood.
“AgriRecovery is not intended to pay for the same event more than once. AgriRecovery was never intended to provide long-term compensation for situations that have affected the production capacity of a region for extended periods,” an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada department official said in an emailed statement.
The statement last week reinforces previous comments by federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz that costs incurred in 2012 due to the previous year’s flooding will not be eligible under AgriRecovery, the program through which most compensation was provided in 2011.
The federal government says Manitoba farmers have already received more than half a billion dollars through joint business risk management programs for 2011.
But producers, residents, cottage owners and First Nations around Lake Manitoba have continued to experience losses, including high water levels.
“Minister Ritz may have said no, but we’re not taking no for an answer,” said Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister of infrastructure and transportation.
“We’ve pushed back… and we’re absolutely confident we can document some of the impacts on pasture land, and the impacts that have had a ripple effect on the livestock sector.”
Frustration over a lack of compensation for flooded, damaged and inactive farmland in 2012 has spilled over into public protests twice in as many weeks.
In late April, protesting farmers blocked the opening of the Portage Diversion. A week later they took to the steps of the Manitoba legislature to voice their displeasure with the province’s handling of compensation in 2011 and 2012.
“I had a long-term forage business that has totally been wiped out, I can’t expect to rejuvenate it now,” said Joe Johnson. “Then I hear Mr. Ashton and Mr. Selinger talking about compensation, and I say wait a minute, the numbers don’t add up.”
Based on documents obtained through access to information in October of 2012, the Lake Manitoba-area producer estimates the average compensation payment for those affected by the 2011 flood to be about $65,000.
However, the province indicates that of the $700 million paid out to Manitobans after the 2011 flooding so far, more than $120 million has gone to producers around Lake Manitoba.
Ashton said payments ranged from $33,000 to $570,000, with the average producer receiving approximately $300,000 through a variety of programs covering costs such as home repair, debris removal, pasture and cropland restoration, cattle transport, fence repairs and income loss.
“It’s not correct to suggest that people haven’t received assistance,” the minister said. “I think the real issue here is… what level and for what costs. Really, as a province we’ve tried to be very proactive in our responses.”
Ashton acknowledged that multi-year compensation is still an issue, but he said addressing it requires federal support.
“Our approach is focused on getting the joint programs that do exist to provide extended coverage — extended in terms of years and I think we have to send a clear message to the federal government that this is the appropriate way to proceed,” Ashton said, while emphasizing that negotiations with Ottawa have remained amicable.
The Manitoba Co-operator requested an interview with Ritz last week, but that request was declined.
During a meeting for flood-affected Lake Manitoba residents last winter, federal officials urged the province to apply for funding through Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA), a program that reimburses up to 90 per cent of provincial disaster costs and is overseen by Manitoba’s lead federal minister, Vic Toews.
A request to speak to Toews was also declined, but in an emailed response, staff indicated a total of $100 million has been provided to Manitoba through DFAA in 2011 and 2012.
Provincial officials note Manitoba has spent a total of $1.2 billion fighting and compensating for the 2011 flood so far.
Public Safety Canada confirmed that a third request for DFA has been received from the province of Manitoba, but said that “audit findings are at a very preliminary level and do not provide detail with respect to the acceptance or rejection of elements of the provincial claims” at this time.
Ashton would not reveal what action the province will take if the federal government does not come through with funding for flood damage that extended into 2012.
“They may have assumed that under normal circumstances you only pay out for flooding once, but if you have impacts that continue for more than one year and flooding that continues for more than one year… there needs to be that kind of coverage,” he said.
Tom Nevakshonoff, MLA for the Interlake, said he would like to see the federal government step in with programing similar to the Jobs and Economic Recovery Initiative brought in following the flood of 1997.
“It’s incumbent upon us, and when I say us, I mean all of us, Manitobans, Canadians, provincial and federal governments to step up and do our utmost to repair the damage and get people back to the way their lives were before,” he said.