Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/1/2012 (2845 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BRANDON — Over the past several weeks, various media outlets and the leaders of Manitoba's opposition parties have demanded a public inquiry into decisions made by the Selinger government in response to the 2011 flood crisis.
They argue a public inquiry is the only way for the public to understand exactly what happened last spring. I disagree.
Setting aside the obvious political dividends that would accrue to the opposition through such an inquiry, there is no compelling reason to hold an expensive, time-consuming inquiry that will ultimately arrive at conclusions many Manitobans reached months ago.
* A succession of provincial governments underestimated and/or ignored the risk of flooding posed by the Assiniboine and Souris rivers, instead directing the bulk of their efforts toward protecting Winnipeg from the Red River.
* Despite ominous warning signs in the fall of 2010 and early winter of 2011, the Selinger government was woefully unprepared and far too slow to react to the flood danger.
* The Selinger government failed to accurately assess the risk posed by enhanced drainage into the Assiniboine and Souris watersheds in Saskatchewan.
* Even after the Selinger government grasped the severity of the situation, it provided conflicting information to the public that confused and frustrated Manitobans impacted by the flood.
* The flood-protection measures in place along the Assiniboine and Souris rivers were, and still are, inadequate to meet the danger posed to communities by even moderate flooding.
Rather than spending millions of taxpayer dollars for high-priced lawyers to argue their clients' cases at an inquiry and many thousands more for an eminent person to preside over the proceeding and render a multi-volume decision months later, western Manitobans would rather see that money spent on improved flood protection along the Assiniboine and Souris rivers.
They understand lawyers can't protect Westman from future flooding, but engineers can.
If the Selinger government is truly serious about avoiding a repeat of 2011, it should immediately retain a group of truly independent, unquestionably qualified experts to conduct a no-stone-unturned assessment of the flood risks posed by the Assiniboine and Souris, and to provide a comprehensive list of recommended measures that would significantly mitigate those risks.
In order to enhance public confidence in the process and in the recommendations ultimately made, the process must be conducted with the greatest degree of openness and transparency possible.
This approach is similar to the comprehensive provincial watershed strategy demanded by delegates to the recent Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention.
"We need this committee or group working as soon as possible," Souris Mayor Darryl Jackson told the Brandon Sun during the AMM convention. "We need something in place that protects people. Whether that's control structures, retention reservoirs with control structures on them, we have to do something about that drainage."
Ideally, the assessment would be conducted, the recommendations made and then quickly acted upon by all levels of government.
Unfortunately, any sense of urgency to protect Westman from future flooding is quickly evaporating.
This past summer and fall were drier than usual in the region, the Assiniboine and Souris have retreated to within their banks and there has been little snow so far this winter.
If there is no significant flooding this spring, last year's crisis will be a distant memory by summer. It will be regarded as a one-in-300-year anomaly, unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
Western Manitobans have seen this happen many times in the past. For decades, provincial governments have made bold promises of enhanced flood protection after significant "high-water events," but those commitments were largely forgotten once the Assiniboine and Souris returned to their normally docile states. It could happen again.
With the Selinger government facing a $1-billion deficit, an exploding debt burden and demands for money for a variety of programs, there is a growing concern in Westman that history will repeat itself and, yet again, the need to protect the region from potential flooding will give way to initiatives deemed to be more pressing.
It raises the question: How serious would the threat of flooding in Westman have to be — how many millions of dollars in damage would a flood have to cause — in order to motivate the powers that be in Winnipeg to actually do something about it?
Deveryn Ross is a Brandon