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$2.6M owed to lodge owner

Feds order MANFF to pay evacuee bill now

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Little Saskatchewan evacuees at the Misty Lake Lodge last December with signs they made in the hallway of the lodge.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Little Saskatchewan evacuees at the Misty Lake Lodge last December with signs they made in the hallway of the lodge. Photo Store

A federal review of the multimillion-dollar dispute between the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters and Misty Lake Lodge has come down squarely in favour of the Interlake hotel operator.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Affairs Canada has determined hotel operator Michael Bruneau is owed $2.6 million for lodging First Nations evacuees from the 2011 flood.

The July 18 letter from the federal department comes after a full review of the contract dispute that has pushed Misty Lake Lodge to the brink of closing over unpaid bills.

Ottawa's decision comes with an order issued to MANFF to pay Bruneau the money for lodging and other claims related to the evacuees who were housed at Misty Lake as well as a hotel in Ashern Bruneau owns.

"Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will be making arrangements with an expert resource that will be in place shortly to assist the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters to ensure that these payments are made," said the letter from Anna Fontaine, regional director general in Manitoba for the federal department.

'I don't understand why they don't want to pay my bill'

-- Misty Lake Lodge owner Mike Bruneau, who says he's owed $2.6 million

Bruneau, however, expressed disappointment Friday with the amount the federal review says is owed to him.

According to the federal review, MANFF owes Bruneau $1.9 million for evacuee bills up to April 28 at Misty Lake and $693,442 up to May 11 at his motor hotel in Ashern.

Bruneau, however, says he's owed $2.2 million at Misty Lake, a shortfall of $300,000.

"I don't understand why they don't want to pay my bill. I know they denied some of the evacuees, MANFF denied them but the chiefs gave me letters (indicating) that they were legitimate," Bruneau said.

As part of the review, federal officials rejected a MANFF claim that changes in rates and billings were required to satisfy new conditions from the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization. According to the review, EMO had not made any changes to its regulations for disaster financial assistance.

'Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will be making arrangements... to ensure that these payments are made'

-- AANDC regional director-general Anna Fontaine

For Ottawa, the settlement means an end to months of wrangling over hotel bills, a dispute that ultimately triggered a simmering scandal on MANFF's handling of evacuee assistance and its decision to step aside.

The settlement followed a decision Wednesday by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt. He informed his provincial counterpart, Eric Robinson, he would intervene to ensure Misty Lake would be paid the millions it was owed.

Ottawa is still waiting for the results of a separate management review this winter into MANFF's wider handling of evacuee needs.

As of Wednesday, Misty Lake hosted a few dozen evacuees. At one time, as many as 180 lived at the hotel and by all accounts, evacuees were happy there.

The latest development might not make a difference to the fate of Misty Lake Lodge.

Bruneau said he's not budging on an earlier decision to close the lodge Sept. 1

Bruneau said he's not budging on a decision earlier this week to close down the lodge Sept. 1.

MANFF officials said they were too busy dealing with fires in the north to comment on the federal order.

In June, MANFF, which is also under a separate federal review for its financial and management practices for nearly 2,000 evacuees since the flood of 2011, announced it was stepping away from evacuee assistance.

At the same time, federal and provincial officials announced the Canadian Red Cross would conduct an assessment of evacuee needs for Ottawa.

The settlement wraps up a review set up this spring to sort out the billing dispute that determined Misty Lake's closure raises concerns flood evacuees from Little Saskatchewan and Lake St. Martin First Nations will again be uprooted.

All were forced to flee their homes in the spring of 2011 due to flooding. A permanent resettlement plan is still in the works.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 A3

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