Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/3/2012 (3324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- A spike in the number of Lake St. Martin First Nation residents receiving payouts after fleeing their flooded community last spring has sparked a federal government investigation.
As of this week, 1,268 members of the First Nation were registered as evacuees with the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters.
That's up more than 100 people from the number registered just a month ago.
And, it's almost double the list of 767 residents eligible for evacuation pay, which was given to MANFF last spring by the First Nation's lawyer.
The discrepancies could amount to a multimillion-dollar problem for the federal government -- which has already spent $12 million on hotel costs, rent in private homes and daily living allowances for Lake St. Martin evacuees.
There are 206 of them living in hotels around Winnipeg, 14 in hotels outside of Winnipeg and 1,048 have found lodging with friends or family.
In the last 11 months, the federal government has spent $40 million on flood-related evacuation costs for all First Nations in Manitoba.
So far, nobody can explain the recent increase of 111 evacuees from Lake St. Martin in the last month or the reason there are far more evacuees registered with MANFF than the First Nation indicated when the flood hit.
After two days of questions from the Free Press about the discrepancies, the federal government issued the following statement Thursday night: "The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has noted the increase and is looking into it. The department has been clear and consistent in all discussions with First Nations on the rules for evacuee eligibility and the consequences of non-compliance with the rules.
"If, upon review, any evacuee expenses are found to be ineligible, these costs will be recovered from the First Nation."
It's not clear how many people lived in Lake St. Martin last spring. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada had 1,325 people registered on reserve in March 2011, and 1,410 in February 2012.
However, last May, in interviews with the Free Press, Chief Adrian Sinclair and others on the reserve suggested there were about 500 people living there. Chronic flooding over several years had left many homes uninhabitable even prior to the 2011 flooding, and many people had moved away before the evacuations last year.
Gerald Houle, president of the MANFF board of directors, said there is no way the evacuation numbers could be inflated.
"All the numbers come from chief and council," he said. "Those numbers are not going to go up."
But they have consistently done just that.
On June 14, 2011, the provincial flood bulletin noted 587 people had been evacuated from the Lake St. Martin community.
In August, the figures reported to the media were up to 725. That number held at least until December.
However, as of Feb. 9, the number of Lake St. Martin evacuees listed with the federal government was 1,157. And as of this week, it had grown again to 1,268.
The system for funding the housing and living costs of evacuees from First Nations is convoluted. The band chief and council provide MANFF with a list of names of people eligible for evacuation. In turn, MANFF and the province's Emergency Management Organization arrange the evacuation. MANFF also arranges and pays for hotel rooms and living costs for evacuees.
EMO repays MANFF for the costs and applies to the federal government for rebates because the federal government -- not Manitoba -- has jurisdiction over First Nations.
The questions about Lake St. Martin's evacuation figures come as MANFF faces internal problems. In February, the non-profit agency's board fired the emergency management co-ordinator for poor job performance. As well, the executive director was suspended with pay pending a police investigation.
Houle said the agency's lawyers have advised him not to say anything more about the investigation. He would not even confirm the subject matter.
He would only say the investigation related to "complaints from disgruntled employees."
In 2010, MANFF fired its executive director after allegations of sexual harassment. He responding by suing MANFF for wrongful dismissal.
MURKY MATH: The changing number of flood evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation:
May to early June 2011: 767
The number of Lake St. Martin residents filed with the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters who were eligible for evacuation, according to the band's lawyer
June 14, 2011: 587
The number of evacuees reported in a provincial flood bulletin
August 2011: 725
The number of evacuees reported to the media
Feb. 9, 2012: 1,157
The number of evacuees listed with the federal government
March 12, 2012: 1,268
The latest total of evacuees registered with the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters