Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Ashton might try to get the facts straight
It has been interesting, to say the least, how accusations have been flying since a group of Lake Manitoba landowners protested at the Portage Diversion on Monday.
The Selinger government called the 12-hour protest "unacceptable" and "irresponsible," claiming if it had lasted any longer, communities to the east might have been flooded.
Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton stated, "To say irresponsible is an understatement. For people to dump that kind of equipment in and then leave -- they didn't even have the decency to accept responsibility for what they did."
But is this true? In fact, this group of "angry, irresponsible" farmers told both the RCMP and Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation right from the start of their protest that if the gates of the diversion needed to be opened, they would move their equipment immediately.
And they never left -- not until word was received the government agreed to meet with them. While the province did indeed get a court injunction, it was never served nor was it necessary -- the RCMP knew that and so did the government. No communities downstream nor any lives were in danger. This was simply a protest to bring attention to the plight of people around Lake Manitoba before the diversion once again became operational.
As for being labelled "angry," I think frustrated and tired is the closer to the truth. On Monday, no one was arguing, yelling or screaming -- they all listened respectfully in dealing with officials. They simply wanted to discuss an outlet and lack of compensation with the premier and his associates -- an opportunity that had been denied going through the "proper" channels.
Many people around the lake agree that, in 2011, Lake Manitoba was the right place for the water to go -- flood a few to save many. However, they were promised fair and adequate compensation for this man-made, government-controlled flood.
Premier Greg Selinger and Ashton have stated the average producer around the lake received $300,000 in compensation. Perhaps our cheque got lost in the mail -- we received nowhere near that amount, nor did anyone else we know. Where is the government getting these figures? Of the $108 per acre paid out for lost crop production (depending on the producer's coverage) $50 to $65 was from crop-insurance (premiums paid by farmers annually) and $30 was from the federal government. The remaining $28 to $13 per acre was from the province. By the way, $108 is far less than a farmer would make planting a crop. A financial institution would likely not renew their line of credit nor approve loans with such low projections for income.
In trying to understand the plight of these crop producers, just imagine losing 50 per cent of your annual income (some lost more, some less).
You are promised you will be compensated but two years later you are still waiting. In the meantime, you've had to make mortgage and car payments, perhaps pay for a child to go to university as well as take care of all your other expenses. Would you be content to sit back and do nothing when there was potential for it happen all over again?
These protesters have been called "irresponsible." They are simply trying to protect their future and asking to be treated fairly.
What about our government? Has it acted proactively and responsibly in putting structures in place so water in equals water out? If so, the lake could have been managed and no compensation would be required. The responsible thing to do would be to fix the 'fail-safe' so farmland is not being flooded when the diversion runs at over 15,000 cubic feet per second, as it is doing today. The responsible thing to do would be to keep your word and take care of everyone (farmers, ranchers, home and cottage owners, business and First Nations) -- as promised -- who took the hit for those downstream on the Assiniboine, including Winnipeg.
Homes, lives and livelihoods have all been adversely affected. Property was still underwater in 2012. The lake was 811.8 feet on Monday -- the high end of the operating range -- and now the diversion is flowing full-force once again.
My take on those "angry, irresponsible" farmers -- they are the most honest, patient, hard-working bunch of people I know. Forgive them if after two years of filling out forms, sending in documentation, going to meetings (that Selinger neglected to attend), presenting appeals (that yielded nothing more than sympathy), and diligently following the process the government requested, that they have the nerve to hold a peaceful, co-operative, 12-hour protest to bring attention to the issues around Lake Manitoba.
By the way, to date no word from the government on the promised meeting -- instead those radical protesters are being served court orders.
Sandi Knight lives in Macdonald, Man. She is married to one of the "irresponsible" farmers.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 A9
Updated on Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:14 AM CDT: Corrects hometown of writer.
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