A federal cabinet minister has vowed to intervene to ensure Misty Lake Lodge receives the millions its owed for housing flood evacuees, but the Gimli hotel owner is skeptical.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt assured his provincial counterpart, Eric Robinson, he would intervene to ensure lodge owner Michael Bruneau is paid more than $3 million owed to him, Robinson said Wednesday.
"He assured me that the federal government is going to be addressing the issue of the outstanding amount of money owed to the Misty Lake Lodge. And he's going to be dealing with the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) on that issue," Robinson said.
Bruneau said this week he will close the business Sept. 1 because he's been unable to collect the outstanding debt from the federal government through its agent, the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters.
The impending closure raises concern flood evacuees from Lake St. Martin and Little Saskatchewan First Nations will again be uprooted. By all accounts, they were being treated well by the hotel and some residents had found jobs in Gimli.
All were forced to flee their homes in the spring of 2011 due to flooding. The federal and provincial governments, along with the First Nations, are still working on a permanent resettlement plan.
In a joint statement, Valcourt and Robinson promised evacuees at Misty Lake Lodge they would work to ensure they continue to receive food, shelter and other services.
"No one will be without shelter should Misty Lake Lodge close," the ministers said in the statement.
Bruneau, who has received federal assurances before, only to see his hopes of payment dashed, said he will believe it when he sees it.
"I don't believe (anything) now," he said Wednesday, adding he's received no word from either level of government or MANFF that the outstanding bills, dating back to last fall, will be covered.
As of Wednesday, Misty Lake Lodge hosted a few dozen flood evacuees. At one time, as many as 180 lived at the hotel.
MANFF, which has provided services to flood evacuees on behalf of the federal government, has refused to comment on the outstanding hotel debt.
The Manitoba government has been reluctantly drawn into the payment dispute because its Emergency Measures Organization acts as a kind of middle man between MANFF and the federal government.
EMO reimburses MANFF for hotel- and meal-expense claims submitted on behalf of the flood evacuees and the province, in turn, is reimbursed by Ottawa.
Provincial officials say they are up to date in paying MANFF for all legitimate expenses it has submitted. Yet, Bruneau is still out millions of dollars.
Ottawa is carrying out an audit of flood-evacuee expenses that will likely shed light on where the money has gone.
The report is rumoured to be nearly completed.
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said Wednesday the province can't wash its hands of the issue and pretend it's simply a dispute between Misty Lake and the feds and MANFF.
"We don't know precisely where the mismanagement is, perhaps, but we know that there is a big problem here and we know that the province is right in the middle of it," Gerrard said.