VIDEO: Lake Manitoba residents hold flood rally at MLA

Shelley Cook

Emotions ran high on Tuesday afternoon, as home and cottage owners from the Lake Manitoba region took to the Legislative grounds to draw attention to their plight.

Approximately 200 people gathered at the steps of the legislature, holding signs and breaking into chants of "We want our lakes down."

The group demanded better flood compensation and a plan of action from the Selinger government to alleviate the record flooding that has destroyed many of their homes and properties.

Emergency Measures Minister, Steve Ashton, was initially met with boos and jeers as he addressed the crowd of frustrated home and cottage owners.

"One message I want to give you today is, we're not going to forget Lake Manitoba, we're not going to give up on fighting this flood, " he said. "When it comes to the recovery stage, Stan Struthers pointed out, we're going to be there working with each and every one of you."

Ashton said that Manitoba has already gone significantly beyond the Disaster Financial Assistance Program, but he said that the provincial government will continue to work with families to protect and salvage what's left of their homes. He also promised that the province would work on mitigation to make sure that residents have an improved situation in the future.

Damage from this flood is expected to exceed the damage that occurred during the record flood of 1997. Residents from the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin region will be some of the hardest hit by the disaster.

Conservative leader, Hugh McFadyen, who has visited many flood victims in the Lake Manitoba area in recent weeks, said he's not only seen the destruction of homes, cottages and beaches, but also the destruction of memories and hopes for the future.

McFadyen says there were warnings that a catastrophe like this flood could happen.

"The warnings started more than a decade ago," he said, citing a government report from 2003 that said the waters of Lake Manitoba would get high if the waters of the Assinaboine got high.

"You were ignored, the warnings were ignored, and here we stand today fighting for our lives and fighting for our property," he said.

McFadyen said that flood victims need full resources from every level of government to help them protect their properties. He also said that, most importantly, a plan needs to be made to lower the lake.

Liberal leader Jon Gerard echoed McFadyen's concerns, and said that a solution for the mess caused by the Portage diversion needs to come soon. Residents along Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin, he said, need to be provided for.

"We can't be solving this on the backs of somebody else, just like we have had the problems in Winnipeg being solved on the backs of people on Lake Manitoba. We've got to have a solution for all," he said.

Premier Selinger was visiting flooded areas in rural Manitoba and not on hand for the rally.

For the residents of Lake Manitoba, the rally was a way for the community of friends, neighbours and strangers alike to come together and tell the government and the world of the devastation that stole their homes and lives away from them.

One area resident, Fred Pisclevich, who was evacuated from his Twin Lakes Beach home on May 31, spoke about losing his home of 66 years.

"My house is standing on a small sliver of land between Lake Manitoba and Lake Frances, as the two lakes are now connected," he said, fighting back tears.

"We need the province to admit that it was a decision made by the provincial government to divert this water through the portage diversion into Lake Manitoba, thereby causing this destruction that it did," he said.

Pisclevich says he wants to know why the area has not been declared a provincial disaster zone, and why the government and the army has not come out to help him and his neighbours. He also asked when he would be allowed back into his home to salvage what's left.

The province announced a $175-million Building and Recovery Action Plan, by providing financial assistance through a number of programs, including those specifically set up for residents in the Hoop and Holler Bend and Lake Manitoba areas.

Stan Struthers, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, said that permanent residents of Lake Manitoba can be eligible for up to $254,000 in flood compensation.

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