The federal government needs to pay up before the provincial government can offer more compensation to those still suffering damages from the 2011 flood, says Manitoba Finance Minister Stan Struthers.
Speaking to more than 200 farmers, cottage owners, First Nations representatives and politicians during a crowded meeting at the centennial-era Meadow-Lea Hall north of Marquette, Struthers said the province has already paid for nine flood-related programs in full, while the federal government has not ponied up its share of the $1.25-billion flood tab under Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) and AgriRecovery.
“By our calculation, they are far short of the amount of money they legitimately owe us,” said Struthers, adding the estimated federal portion of 2011 flood falls between $450 million and $500 million. To date, the province as received only $100 million, he said.
“They have agreed to these programs, but I haven’t seen the cheque,” said Struthers.
Member of Parliament for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, Robert Sopuck, also took to the stage to say the province hasn’t done the paperwork.
“Quite frankly, what we need from the provincial government is a DFA request and we will see where we go from there,” he said, referring to compensation for 2012.
Struthers responded, stating the province made an application for 2012 compensation for producers under AgriStability last summer, as it was instructed to do by the federal government.
“We’ve been working to make sure we get our application correct,” said the finance minister. “Given what we’ve been advised by the federal government, we put our application in through AgriRecovery.”
He said the province is now waiting for the federal government to respond to its application.
Those who attended the meeting organized by the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee were not reassured by what they heard.
Committee chairman Tom Teichroeb said he came to the meeting hoping to hear when he could expect compensation for the ongoing expenses his cattle operation has incurred as a result of the 2011 flood.
“I didn’t get that today,” he said, adding there seems to be an alarming amount of disconnect between different levels of government.
And although many ranchers who spoke at the meeting expressed gratitude for provincial compensation received in 2011, frustration with the province was palpable as some attendees heckled and shouted down speakers at the mention of Premier Greg Selinger’s name. Other producers openly questioned why Manitoba’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives did not attend the meeting.
“This has been two difficult years… can someone give us some hope?” asked Lily Schneider, a resident of Twin Lakes Beach. “Is there anyone here who has their finger on this thing?”
Those living around Lake Manitoba also want permanent solutions to flooding in the area, including a dedicated channel to flow water out of Lake Manitoba. Following the 2011 flood, an emergency channel was built to lower water levels on Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba, but that channel was closed last fall.
“We are dangerously close to once again experiencing a flood,” said Teichroeb.
The Portage Diversion, which diverts water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba is also a constant liability, he added.
“We have to change the way we manage the land,” Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard told those at the meeting. He cited increased drainage as one of the issues contributing to flooding in Manitoba and across the Prairies.
Although the flood of 2011 was precipitated by extreme weather, soggy soil, and a heavy snowpack, storing water on the land before it reaches lakes and rivers is key to lessening the impact of floods, Gerrard said.
Jim Lintott of the Manitoba Forage Council agreed, indicating he would like to see more water on the land, while recognizing there are obstacles.
“We’re not going to put the pothole back on the land… I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” he said.
In the meantime, Lintott urged those at the meeting to continue to put pressure on both levels of government for compensation and prevention.
“I didn’t hear a single person promise when they were going to cut a cheque today,” he said. “We need to hold the government’s feet to the fire.”