About 2,000 people still remain displaced by the Manitoba flood of 2011, and the agency that is supposed to pay for their expenses now owes millions of dollars in unpaid bills to hotels and other businesses.
CBC has learned the Manitoba Association of Aboriginal Fire Fighters (MANFF), which disburses federal dollars to flood evacuees, hasn’t been paying some bills for the last six months.
At least six hotels and a restaurant are owed about $3 million.
"I've had kids here for a year and half, and we’re not getting paid for their food or their housing," said Mike Bruneau, owner Misty Lake Lodge near Gimli and the Ashern Motor Hotel. He said he hasn’t been paid for six months.
Bruneau said he is now owed almost $2 million. Misty Lake houses 65 evacuees from Lake St. Martin and Little Saskatchewan First Nations. Another 20 evacuees live at his Ashern hotel.
Misty Lake was once a popular wedding and convention destination but because of how the lodge has been renovated into living quarters to accommodate the evacuees, that business is gone.
"I'll survive for a while. I may have to sell some of my assets ... I'll keep going," he said.
"What I'm doing now I will not quit. I'm into it too much."
One Winnipeg hotel, which also houses evacuees, is owed almost $1 million. An Interlake hotel has outstanding bills of $220,000 and a campground is owed $120,000.
Misty Lake Lodge offered payment deal
Misty Lake was set to meet with MANFF two weeks ago to sort out the bills, but the meeting was cancelled with a few hours notice.
MANFF has not responded to CBC’s repeated requests for an interview.
Late Monday, MANFF sent a fax to Misty Lake Lodge offering to pay part of their bill if the total from six invoices was cut by $148,000.
According to the province, MANFF is an agent of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada that reports to an independent board of directors.
They submit paid invoices for their expenses to the province’s EMO office, which in turn recovers the money from the federal government through disaster relief agreements.
Feds paid MANFF for invoices: hotel manager
Rytha Dykes, general manager at Misty Lake Lodge, said she checked with EMO and discovered the province had already paid MANFF for the Misty Lake’s invoices — the very ones which MANFF has been slow to settle.
Dykes said they are trying to focus on caring for evacuees despite the billing issues.
"I know every single guest here by their first name and probably know what their favourite colour is even. We have very personal relationships with our guests now," she said.
The province says $72 million has been advanced since the onset of the flood to MANFF in order to keep cash flowing to evacuees, but it doesn’t watch how the money is spent — that’s done in a federal audit, which hasn’t happened yet.
The province sent a statement to CBC on Wednesday that MANFF must submit a receipt from a vendor with a cheque stub in order for the Emergency Measures Office to reimburse them.
EMO is up to date with reimbursements that MANFF has submitted to them – though there may be outstanding amounts that MANFF has not submitted to EMO.
AANDC spokesperson Ellen Funk said in an emailed statement a management review is being conducted at MANFF and is a "routine and important part of the review process."
A report is expected later this spring.