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$1.9M to get evacuee info

Province puts price on newspaper's request

The province has set a price tag of $1.9 million on records that could help the public get to the bottom of questions surrounding flood compensation to First Nations.

That hefty bill is what the province said it will cost to produce copies of correspondence between Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization and other key players that provide flood compensation to Manitoba First Nations.

Last month, the Free Press requested emails and other correspondence between EMO and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as well as the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters (MANFF), which handles First Nations' flood compensation claims on behalf of Ottawa.

The newspaper hoped the correspondence would shed light on why the number of evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation soared in recent months, requiring Ottawa to spend an increasing amount of money on hotel and other claims.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/4/2012 (1971 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The province has set a price tag of $1.9 million on records that could help the public get to the bottom of questions surrounding flood compensation to First Nations.

That hefty bill is what the province said it will cost to produce copies of correspondence between Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization and other key players that provide flood compensation to Manitoba First Nations.

Flooding on Lake St. Martin First Nation in May 2011.

Flooding on Lake St. Martin First Nation in May 2011.

Last month, the Free Press requested emails and other correspondence between EMO and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as well as the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters (MANFF), which handles First Nations' flood compensation claims on behalf of Ottawa.

The newspaper hoped the correspondence would shed light on why the number of evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation soared in recent months, requiring Ottawa to spend an increasing amount of money on hotel and other claims.

In letters to the Free Press late last week, the province said it would take staff close to 63,000 hours of work to produce copies of the correspondence, which covered a period of 13 months.

Stu Briese, the Conservative critic responsible for EMO, was incredulous when told of the provincial government's response.

"The first thing that jumps immediately to mind is: 'What are they trying to hide?' " the member for Agassiz said Monday, referring to the government's replies to the Free Press requests, which were made under provincial freedom-of-information legislation.

MANFF is contracted by Ottawa to provide emergency services for First Nations and was the organization registering evacuees and paying for hotel rooms and allowances for food and other daily necessities. Manitoba EMO reimbursed MANFF and was, in turn, reimbursed by Ottawa. Last August, there were 725 flood evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation, according to a provincial flood bulletin. But by March this year, the number had grown to 1,268.

Last week, Ottawa said it had identified 170 Lake St. Martin band members who were receiving evacuation benefits but were not eligible for them. The federal review was prompted by stories in the Free Press.

Briese noted the more than 60,000 hours the province said it needed to recover the correspondence is the equivalent of 30 person-years of work.

"If it takes that much (time) to find it, there's been some awful bad management in the departments," he said. "It also makes you wonder what else is falling through the cracks."

Steve Ashton, the minister responsible for the provincial EMO, said the agency has nothing to hide. If anything, he said staff who drafted the responses to the Free Press "wanted to make sure that everything that might possibly directly or indirectly be related to the two requests was released to you."

Ashton said the requests for information were legitimate, and he believes more can be done on both sides to refine the requests so they are manageable and the Free Press receives what it is looking for.

"To my mind, this is not over," the minister said. "And certainly, as minister, you have my assurance that we're going to try to find a way to make this request feasible."

The Free Press has also requested information from the federal government. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has asked for lengthy extensions of three months and six months for two similar requests for federal documents.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Larry Kusch.

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