Just as the Assiniboine River crested in Brandon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was getting a bird’s eye view of the flood-ravaged area.
Harper arrived at McGill Field in a Challenger jet around 12 p.m. on Sunday. Shortly after his arrival, the prime minister took a 20-minute helicopter tour, along with Premier Greg Selinger and local MPs to see the extent of the washed out roads and waterlogged farmland.
"Obviously we are here to express our solidarity with people as I know everybody is very concerned about the situation," Harper said after he attended a briefing at Brandon City Hall. "Many have been affected."
The province sent out a flood bulletin on Sunday afternoon, stating the swollen Assiniboine River had crested in the Wheat City.
In spite of a wicked storm Saturday night, which brought heavy rain, hail and strong winds, the dikes successfully held up.
Water levels will remain high, and a second summer crest is expected around July 17-18, consisting of flows from the upper Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle river basins.
"I’ve been talking with Premier Selinger also Premier (Brad) Wall the last week about the developments and I just want to assure everybody that all levels of government are working together very hard," Harper said. "I want to thank all the workers here, in both provinces who have been doing good work, also our military who are assisting with the situation in Portage la Prairie, where we expect the greatest challenges."
Harper visited the City of Brandon’s emergency operations centre, along with Selinger, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire, Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette Conservative MP Robert Sopuck, Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell, Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer, among others.
Members of the media were allowed in the room for a few minutes, where both Harper and Selinger spoke briefly. No questions were allowed.
"All governments will work together and there will be disaster assistance in this case, as there always is according to federal law," Harper said. "I appreciate, premier, that you’ve been keeping … myself and all of the people informed. We’ll keep on top of this until we get the crest and get through it all."
Following his time at city hall, Harper went to First Street North to see the extent of the flooding by Dinsdale Park and Optimist Soccer Park.
The floodwater coming from Saskatchewan prompted Selinger to declare a state of emergency Friday.
Selinger praised Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and the city’s emergency measures team for the work they are doing to protect Brandon.
"Three years ago when we stood here, we saw super sandbags 15 feet high above our head with water piled up behind it and leaks coming out of them," Selinger said. "This year when we got back to 18th Street we saw permanent dikes that were filled in, safe, secure and doing the job effectively. So I want to commend the local leadership for doing all the work necessary to put the right infrastructure in place."
With the second crest expected in a few weeks, Selinger said everyone needs to "remain vigilant."
"We’re not completely through this crisis yet," he said. "Localized weather events can add more stress back to the system, so we can take nothing for granted right now. We have to keep working flat out to ensure we’ve got protection in place."
First Street North is expected to be water-covered and out of commission for weeks. When asked if there may be permanent dikes for First Street to avoid this situation in the future, Selinger said the province will "take the advice from the local officials."
"They felt ... that the most important thing was to get 18th Street in very good shape, and it’s serving us extremely well, the dikes there," Selinger said. "First Street is something that they will discuss, and we’ll discuss it with them."
» With Canadian Press files
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