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Mulcair miffed Tories nix flood tour

NDP leader calls it playing petty politics

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's flood tour was vetoed at the last minute.

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NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's flood tour was vetoed at the last minute. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has accused the Harper government of playing petty politics with the Manitoba flood and ignoring the underlying causes of such weather-related events.

The Opposition leader criticized Defence Minister Rob Nicholson Wednesday, for preventing him from getting a close-up view of the flood fight near Portage la Prairie.

A spokeswoman for Nicholson told The Canadian Press the government cancelled tours for the time being so troops could focus their efforts on keeping Manitobans safe. The Assiniboine River was expected to crest near Portage Wednesday evening.

At a news conference at The Forks, Mulcair rejected the government's explanation, noting Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Brandon Sunday while the river was cresting there.

"It's a courtesy that's always been accorded in the past. It's never been the case that this was seen as an impediment.

"There's never been any obstruction like this before," Mulcair told reporters.

He called the government's action "regrettable," saying it's important for political leaders to show their support for affected communities, thank those who are doing the hard work and get first-hand information so they can take preventive action in the future.

"There are times when everyone just has to come together and put partisan politics aside. Unfortunately, Mr. Harper doesn't seem to understand that," the NDP leader said.

Mulcair said he received assistance from Premier Greg Selinger's office in arranging the visit to a critical area of the flood zone.

The tour, which included a visit to the command post and an opportunity to meet soldiers and others involved in the flood fight, had been approved by a high-ranking military official, he said.

But on Tuesday evening, Mulcair said his office received word from the military Nicholson vetoed the visit.

Although he didn't get a chance to get up close to the flood-fighting effort, Mulcair spoke by phone Wednesday with the deputy mayor of Portage la Prairie and Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.

He said they were both hopeful their flood defences would hold.

Mulcair lamented reports that at least one million acres of Manitoba crops would be lost this year due to flooding or wet conditions that prevented farmers from seeding.

Many believe the severe weather events that have prompted more frequent and devastating floods in Canada and elsewhere are related to climate change.

Mulcair said the Harper government has been on the wrong side of the issue all along.

"Mr. Harper would have you believe that Canada can't afford to deal with climate change. Canadians understand that we can't afford not to deal with climate change," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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