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Feds balk at continued flood payouts

Say farmers already paid for losses in 2011

Crews try to shore up a breach in the Portage Diversion during flooding in 2011. Farmers say they are still paying costs associated with the disaster.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Crews try to shore up a breach in the Portage Diversion during flooding in 2011. Farmers say they are still paying costs associated with the disaster.

Money to help Lake Manitoba farmers deliberately flooded out in 2011 is being held up, and may not arrive at all, because there is no federal program to compensate twice for the same flood, the federal farm minister says.

Agriculture Minister and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board Gerry Ritz responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Wednesday February 6, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Enlarge Image

Agriculture Minister and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board Gerry Ritz responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Wednesday February 6, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld (CP)

"The problem we're having... is this is the second claim for the same flood. There was not a second flood. This is the second claim for the same amount of water," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told southern Manitoba broadcaster Harry Siemens, in an interview for the website SiemensSays.com.

It's the first time the federal government has discussed publicly what is holding up flood compensation. Jeffrey English, assistant to Ritz, confirmed to the Free Press the comments represent the federal government's position.

No compensation would be an extraordinary injustice to farmers who are suffering huge losses from their land being flooded in 2011 by water diverted from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba. Landowners around the lake have always been promised they would be compensated 100 per cent for their sacrifice.

The problem is crop and hay land that sits under water for an entire season does not recover its yield potential for up to five years. Last year alone, one cattle producer lost nearly $100,000. That's for having to buy additional feed for his cattle, move his cattle elsewhere for grazing and rent pasture.

But Ritz said there's nothing in federal programs to address that. He said federal officials continue to study the multi-year compensation plans first submitted by the Manitoba government last August. The province passed along more information last week, Ritz said.

"At the end of the day, the answer could very well be 'no,' that we can't stretch the parameters (of programs) to the extent that we're paying out twice... on a second year of the same flood," Ritz said.

The province says the flood-compensation argument is a matter of semantics. "The impacts of the flood (of 2011) extended well into 2012, so it's not compensating twice on the same damage," said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton.

"Just as in 2011, but on a somewhat reduced scale, those impacts should be included" in federal flood compensation, he said.

However, Ashton said the province doesn't want to jeopardize relations with Ottawa in a public dispute. The province appreciates the Harper government has offered to cost-share 50-50 any future flood-mitigation measures, such as digging an outlet on Lake Manitoba to offset water rerouted via the Portage Diversion. That will be decided after the completion of a task force report on flood mitigation.

But Ashton said the losses to agriculture continue to be considerable. The farm losses in 2011, which Ottawa has agreed to cost-share, were $350 million. He did not have an estimate for ongoing losses in 2012. Neither would he say whether the province would compensate Manitoba farmers alone if Ottawa refused to help.

The dispute between Ottawa and the province has left flooded-out farmers livid.

When governments have budget shortfalls on special projects, such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, for example, "they find a way, they make it happen," said Tom Teichroeb, a flooded-out farmer and spokesman for the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee.

"If you're creative and you're the federal government, you can find a way if you want to," he said.

But Teichroeb also called on the province to live up to the promise it made to Lake Manitoba landowners during the 2011 election to compensate them 100 per cent.

Ritz suggested Manitoba might help farmers on its own through crop insurance. Ashton responded that trying to cover a one-in-400-year flood would bankrupt an insurance program.

The federal government pays 60 per cent of claims under the agricultural recovery program, which the Selinger government has applied to, and the province pays the rest.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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