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Manitoba hotel owner says Ottawa owes millions for his housing flood evacuees

GIMLI, Man. - A Manitoba hotel owner says he has been forced to lay off more than 50 employees, close his hotel and put it up for sale because Ottawa owes him $3 million in unpaid bills.

Mike Bruneau, who owns Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli, says he's owed the money for feeding and housing dozens of aboriginal people who were displaced by the 2011 flood. Bruneau was paid a portion of the cash but says he is owed more.

The last evacuees left the hotel in November and their bills are still outstanding. Bruneau says he also needs to be reimbursed for damage to the hotel and interest on the debt.

"They were in my hotel for 2 1/2 years," he said Monday. "(The rooms) aren't rentable. I wanted them to pay my bills, so I could fix the hotel up. They didn't pay my bills, so I couldn't go back to doing weddings and conferences, the kind of stuff I used to do.

"I had to shut the lodge down and lay everybody off. Now it's for sale."

Bruneau said he got an $8-million offer to sell four years ago. He isn't expecting to get that much now.

"I've got a beat-up building and no business," he said. "People know it's a desperation sale right now."

The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters had been given millions to care for evacuees, but Bruneau said the group stopped paying him when he accused it publicly of squandering money.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is auditing the association's handling of the prolonged evacuation and the Red Cross is now responsible for the long-term care of about 2,000 evacuees.

The evacuees were displaced from reserves around the province in 2011 and many haven't been able to return. They have been scattered around Winnipeg and other parts of the province while officials try to find new and long-term housing.

Bruneau said Aboriginal Affairs wants to negotiate a settlement, but he wants his bills paid in full. That could take years, he said.

"I'm going to hire a couple of lawyers and I'll win," he said. "I'll pay the lawyers probably most of the money. I'll be in court for another five years. I don't know what to do right now — settle with them or go to court."

The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters responded to a request for comment with a one-line statement.

"MANFF will not be discussing Misty Lake Lodge within the press," it said.

A spokeswoman for Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said he wasn't available for an interview. In a two-sentence emailed statement, Ashton noted: "Canada entered into an agreement with the owners of Misty Lake Lodge to settle the dispute.

"The province is not involved in this agreement which was funded directly by Canada."

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs said the department was working on a response.

— By Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg

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