Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disaster gone on too long

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The victims of the 2011 flood in Manitoba just keep piling up in what is turning out to be one of the province's greatest financial, management and humanitarian disasters.

Farmers, property owners and displaced aboriginals are among the human wreckage, but so are businesses that opened their doors to help, only to find themselves on the hook with unpaid bills.

The latest outrage occurred earlier this week when the owner of the Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli said he would lay off his staff of 15 workers and close his doors in September because he has not been paid the $3 million he is owed for housing aboriginal flood evacuees for two years at the lodge and another 12-room hotel he owns in Ashern.

The money was to be paid by the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters, but the payments stopped after the hotel threatened legal action and complained to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which claims it is helpless to intervene.

It's not even clear who's in charge of this unholy mess.

MANFF has previously said it was withdrawing from the evacuee problem because it lacked the necessary skills, but it's not clear who will take over. The Red Cross is conducting an assessment of the needs of evacuees, but it has not agreed to fill the gap left by MANFF. Thus the confusion continues as the hapless victims fall between the cracks.

About 2,000 First Nations residents, including the entire 1,000-strong community of Lake St. Martin, have been homeless for the last two years. The Gimli hotel has sheltered between 90 and 180 of them on a full-time basis since then.

The province said it had no idea the hotel wasn't paid, while Ottawa was even more obtuse, saying: "The federal government will continue working with its partners, including the Province of Manitoba to ensure that evacuees have safe lodging."

Can we say bureaucracy any louder?

The provincial and federal governments recently said they had found new land for the residents of Lake St. Martin to rebuild their lives, but two academics say the land is just as prone to flooding as the property that was destroyed by the 2011 flood.

At this point, it's unclear when, or if, the beleaguered victims, who are spread out in communities across Manitoba, will be brought together again. Several of them have committed suicide, according to the band.

Instead of decisive action, however, the provincial and federal governments have been busy pointing fingers and passing the buck as thousands of people wait for help that seems as far away as it was when the water changed their lives forever.

The state has the power to make things right, and it should start doing that immediately.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2013 A12

History

Updated on Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 10:39 AM CDT: The owner is owed $3 million.

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