By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba is promising more consultations with First Nations communities on a flood-protection project, but an Indigenous leader in the area says he is far from convinced the province is listening.
The Progressive Conservative government says it will soon ramp up talks with Indigenous communities on two planned outlet channels that would help drain water from Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba. The $540-million project is aimed at preventing a repeat of extensive flooding that forced thousands from their homes in First Nations communities in 2011.
“We believe reconciliation is alive and kicking in Manitoba. We will continue to reach out and consult with our communities,” Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said Monday.
The outlets have been planned since 2013 and the federal government has agreed to help pay for the project. However, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada has set down requirements the province must fulfil in terms of environmental and socio-economic assessments, including public consultations with First Nations communities far downstream.
Premier Brian Pallister has said the federal demands are excessive and causing unnecessary delays. But Schuler said the province and Ottawa are now working more closely together.
“Manitoba and Ottawa are having very healthy and concrete conversations, and we’re very pleased that the project is now moving forward whereas we felt previously it wasn’t,” Schuler said.
The province and Ottawa are finalizing a review of the environmental impact statement for the outlets, Schuler said, and the next phase will include a new round of consultations.
Chief Cornell McLean of the Lake Manitoba First Nation said he has seen no sign to date that the province is truly interested in input from affected communities.
“We were invited to meet with the premier and his ministers. Sure, we sat down with them, but there was no consultation — (the ministers) were not allowed to talk,” said McLean, who is also chairman of the six-community Interlake Reserves Tribal Council.
“I think if Pallister allows his ministers to say a few words, there might have been consultation, but they weren’t allowed to talk.”
McLean has several concerns with the planned outlets, including the impact they could have on the area’s fishing industry and on traditional lands.