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Auditor to examine 2011 flood payouts

Compensation process, air ambulance deal among reviews

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The high cost of last year's flood and how the province has managed compensation payments have caught the eye of Manitoba's auditor general.

Carol Bellringer said her office will conduct an independent review of how the province has handled those payments as the total flood bill tops more than $1 billion.

"The costs are high," Bellringer said. "We haven't decided what aspect yet, but we'll look at something."

Bellringer said her office won't duplicate any other reviews taking place on the 2011 flood.

She also said she is aware of complaints from those hit hard by the flood, particularly those on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin who have lost homes or cottages, about the slow process of being compensated for damage.

"We're aware of that and considering whether there's something there we can look at that's going to be useful, but haven't decided yet what we're going to do."

Word of the audit, whatever form it takes, was welcomed by those still recovering from last year's flood.

It also came as cattle farmers criticized the Selinger government for its slow response in helping Lake Manitoba-area ranchers hit by flooding last year. Many of those farmers are scrambling a year later for feed for their animals because their land is still too damaged by floodwater to grow anything.

"We were hoping something would be in place sooner than later," said Ray Armbruster, president of the Manitoba Beef Producers. "In some of these areas, we knew some of these producers were being sacrificed for the greater good, but there was an indication these producers were not going to be forgotten."

Residents around Lake Manitoba said they want Bellringer to examine why it's taken so long to be compensated for the flood damage to their properties -- flooding they say was caused by the province's use of the Portage Diversion to funnel water from the Assiniboine River.

"I applaud the auditor general for looking into this. That's awesome," said Dennis Turek of the Twin Lakes Beach Association. "I know for individual cottage owners, it's been a slow and painful process. I still haven't gotten anything."

Delta Beach resident Don Clarkson, of the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders, said Bellinger should take a hard look at the "bureaucratic nightmare" of the province's flood-recovery program.

"The procedures over there are just not acceptable," he said, adding he received a payment Wednesday, but it was not itemized for what is was for. "I think the biggest issue is getting confirmation of something in writing."

The province said the 2011 flood was the largest in Manitoba's history and it has worked quickly to provide compensation for homeowners, cottage owners, municipalities and First Nations.

"We have been working with the auditor to review the delivery of compensation for months," a spokesman said. "After any large-scale natural disaster in Manitoba, we review our response and are always looking for ways to improve."

Bellringer also said she wants to examine how the province awarded the contact to the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) helicopter ambulance service from Alberta to bring its service to Manitoba. The 10-year contract, worth $10 million per year, was announced by Health Minister Theresa Oswald in February.

"There's nothing that's driving it," Bellinger said of the planned audit. "We do like to pick a few like that, that are like a single transaction, just to see whether or not it's been done the way it's supposed to."

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and the Manitoba Aviation Council have criticized the deal because it was untendered and took money out of the province.

Bellringer said her office also wants to assure itself Manitoba isn't getting into the same problem as Ontario. An all-party probe is examining the ORNGE air ambulance service and has heard testimony about an alleged kickback scheme, exorbitant salaries, nepotism, staff shortages and delayed responses to save money.

OTHER audits Manitoba's fiscal watchdog has added to its to-do list:

-- Employment equity: Look at the province's progress in aboriginal recruitment and retention.

-- Information technology: Conduct two separate audits to examine the security management and server consolidation in the technology division of Innovation, Energy and Mines.

-- Industrial control systems: Examine supervisory control and data acquisition at Manitoba Hydro.

-- RM of Lac du Bonnet: Investigate complaints about how it spends taxpayer dollars.

No dates were given when the audits will start.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 A5

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