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Flood victims seeking answers

Province, Ottawa disagree on blame

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MARQUETTE -- Compensation for people around Lake Manitoba who still can't farm due to the 2011 flood is being delayed by fighting between Manitoba and Ottawa, a packed town hall meeting heard Friday.

The province and federal government have not been able to hammer out an agreement for post-flood compensation to help livestock producers, who need assistance until their crop and pasture land fully recovers from the flood.

Land around Lake Manitoba was deliberately flooded in 2011 to prevent overland flooding along the Assiniboine River west of Winnipeg.

Conservative MP Bob Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) led off by telling about 300 landowners that the federal government has not even received a proposal for flood compensation for ranchers from the province yet. "We need a request to get the process in motion," said Sopuck.

Manitoba Finance Minister Stan Struthers disagreed.

Struthers told the audience Manitoba submitted a proposal for multi-year flood compensation last summer. However, it has not been able to get a financial commitment from Ottawa, he said.

Sopuck backtracked in an interview, claiming Manitoba applied under the wrong program. Sopuck said Manitoba applied under the agricultural recovery program. It should have submitted its proposal to Disaster Financial Assistance.

Struthers responded that the province applied under the agricultural recovery program on the advice of the federal government. The province would have gladly applied under the DFA because the federal government pays 90 per cent of the cost, versus 60 per cent under the agricultural recovery program.

While Struthers was on the hot seat -- one speaker called him the "whipping boy" -- it was the federal MPs who seemed poorly prepared. Conservative MP James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake) later conceded that the Manitoba MPs "are not privy" to details of flood compensation talks.

The town hall meeting at Marquette, about 40 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, was called by the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee.

The crowd was visibly upset but civil, and there was no shouting down politicians. But those in attendance let it be known the impasse threatens to put producers out of business, especially young producers.

Kevin Yuill, who farms on both sides of the Portage Diversion, was flooded out in 2011 -- he is out of pocket about $300,000 from last year. "You look around this room and there are a lot of dollars that went out the window to save Winnipeg. They need to do the right thing now and treat us fairly."

Struthers said Ottawa has paid the province only 20 per cent of the $500 million Ottawa owes the province in DFA payments from the 2011 disaster.

Bezan countered that federal disaster compensation is typically slow. It took three years for Ottawa to compensate Manitoba after the 2008 flood, he said.

People at the meeting weren't just concerned about short-term compensation. They are also worried the province has not yet dug a channel that drains Lake Manitoba fast enough to offset water that's diverted from the Assiniboine River.

The lack of protection from another event like 2011 has devastated property values around the lake. One cottage owner said his property value went from $280,000 before the flood to $108,000. He said a realtor sold a cottage for $40,000 on a property where the land alone would have fetched $120,000 before the flood.

There is concern the lake could flood again this year from melting of a large snowpack in Saskatchewan.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 A14

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