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Doer's 'angry rhetoric' cited in '05 U.S. cable

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A U.S. diplomat's concerns in 2005 that former premier Gary Doer had mishandled the dispute over Devils Lake in North Dakota has not prevented the province from making significant progress on the file, Premier Greg Selinger said Monday.

American diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks to CBC say Manitoba's "angry rhetoric" over Devils Lake frustrated U.S. officials and made for a "terribly strained" relationship between the two countries.

"The U.S. and Canada are clearly on a collision course over Devils Lake, one that could have been avoided in a number of ways over the past two years," U.S. diplomat John Dickson wrote May 10, 2005. "The angry rhetoric and intransigence of the provincial government in Manitoba, now escalating at the federal level in Ottawa, has served to harden the attitude in North Dakota, rather than help move toward a solution."

Selinger said the relationship now is anything but strained thanks in part to Doer, who is well into his second year as Canada's ambassador to the U.S.

"We've all been working together on Devils Lake," Selinger said, adding the focus of current negotiations is an uncontrolled spill of the rising lake at Tolna Coulee. "The American ambassador to Canada, the Canadian ambassador to America, the governor of North Dakota and myself and officials at all levels have been working together to manage that risk."

The fear is that water from Tolna Coulee is about 250 per cent worse in quality than at East Devils Lake, and if there is a spill, it has a direct route to Manitoba through the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River.

Selinger has travelled twice to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. officials. "Talks have progressed quite well," he said. "Everybody has taken an energetic and concerned approach... "

Both countries have also agreed on the need to build a new outlet to control the release of water from Devils Lake rather than see it flow uncontrolled out of Tolna Coulee. Devils Lake has no natural outlet and has quadrupled in size since 1993, forcing the abandonment of one town and the partial relocation of another.

The International Joint Commission, which probes pollution problems in lakes and rivers along the Canada-U.S. border, has been studying the impact of water coming from Devils Lake and potentially harmful organisms entering Manitoba. It's expected to release its findings in a few weeks.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2011 A7

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