Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fund flood protection: Layton

Says PM 'turned his back' on crisis in 2009; wants feds to build dikes

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PRIME Minister Stephen Harper left Manitoba high and dry after the last big flood and Ottawa must do better this time around, NDP Leader Jack Layton told supporters at an election rally Tuesday night.

"When the floods came in 2009, he turned his back," said Layton, adding Ottawa failed to fund permanent dikes to protect rural and First Nations communities.

He said Ottawa must ensure real federal assistance is in place, "not just for some photo op."

Layton did not specify which flood-prevention projects Harper failed to back.

Manitoba's NDP government has been lobbying for more federal funding for disaster prevention instead of emergency aid. But even the province notes the federal Tories recently loosened the rules governing disaster aid and chipped in to a $57-million fund to help property owners along the Red River north of Winnipeg after 2009. That deal was slow in coming, though.

Flood talk capped off Layton's daylong visit to Winnipeg's North End, where he also touted a plan to build more granny suites and derided the Harper Tories on ethical issues.

With squealing kids playing behind him at the North End YMCA-YWCA Tuesday morning, Layton announced another plank in his plan to help families who care for aging loved ones. He proposed a subsidy in the form of a forgivable loan worth up to $35,000 for people building granny suites or small apartments in their homes for aging parents.

Layton cribbed the idea from the Manitoba government, which introduced a similar subsidy last summer. So far, Manitoba's $1.4-million fund has seen seven granny suites built, with another 27 in the final stages of approval.

Layton said the $90-million program will create 200,000 self-contained apartments over the next four years.

The NDP leader kicked off his morning event by taking a swipe at Harper over the Bruce Carson affair, saying it's the latest in a string of scandals causing Canadians to conclude Ottawa is broken.

Carson, Harper's former chief policy analyst, was convicted of five counts of fraud before entering Harper's employ. The Prime Minister's Office has also asked the RCMP to investigate allegations Carson was involved in illegal lobbying.

Layton said that scandal, plus the government's refusal to allow the release of Afghan-detainee documents or the auditor general's report on the G8 and G20 summits suggest Harper can't be trusted.

Layton's focus on the Conservatives may play well in other tight Western Canadian ridings, where there are two-way races between the Tories and the NDP. But Winnipeg North is widely seen as a rematch between the NDP and rookie Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux.

New Democrat Rebecca Blaikie is looking to reclaim the seat, held by former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis before she resigned to run for mayor.

Election day is May 2.

Just before the lunch rush, Layton also stopped in for takeout at Johnny's Maples Pizza and Restaurant just off Inkster Boulevard. There were only a few diners, but at least one, TJ Blore, was glad to be glad-handed after some initial chagrin at the jostling TV cameras and journalists interrupting his burger.

"He's not Stephen Harper," said Blore, a city worker. "It's something new, not the same old crap."

Blore, 20, is a former member of the Conservative party and follows politics closely, but said he is disillusioned with the Tories' "stale" ideas and approach to governing.

Layton's visit ended with a boisterous rally at the historic Ukrainian Labour Temple, where about 350 people gathered for his stump speech.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2011 A6

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