Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives are promising to speed up construction of a flood control channel at the north end of Lake Manitoba — a project for which engineering and environmental licensing have already begun under the governing NDP — if the Tories are elected this spring.
PC Leader Brian Pallister said if elected on April 19, the party would finish building the channel during its first term in office. Actual construction on the project has yet to begin.
Pallister accused the New Democrats of moving too slowly on the $495-million outlet channel project, which was announced last year.
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"The NDP's made promises about this outlet for years and years and they haven't built it. Our commitment is to build it. That's the difference between the two parties," Pallister said while standing near the shore of Lake Manitoba in St. Laurent, Man.
The region has faced flooding and high water levels in recent years, forcing the evacuation of several First Nation communities. More than 1,100 people remain displaced today, Pallister said.
CBC News checked with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation on what target has been set for the completion of the outlet channel.
"The project is still in the developmental stage and we aren't able to estimate construction targets until the environmental licensing process is completed," a department spokesperson said.
'As soon as possible'
Pallister called a flood outlet a "top priority" for the PCs and said if the party is elected, it will do what it takes to build the channel in five years.
"Our target date is to get this thing constructed as early as possible, as soon as possible," he said.
"It has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars, obviously, in flood claims that don't have to happen. And most importantly, its construction means that you let the folks who made such sacrifices for the rest of us around the province get their lives back, give them a greater sense of confidence."
When pressed on the issue, Pallister said the PCs would look at contributing more money to complete the channel if necessary. The federal government committed $248 million toward the project in its budget on Tuesday.
But the New Democrats accused the Tories of promising to move too quickly the project.
"Pallister would rush this project because he plans to ignore environmental approvals and consultations with local First Nations — unsurprising, as we already know the Conservatives oppose Community Benefit Agreements that help First Nations communities participate in the economic benefits of local infrastructure projects," the NDP said in a written statement.
Resident unsure about outlet idea
Meanwhile, one area resident said he is not sure if having a flood outlet is a good idea, regardless of who proposes it.
Garth Holmes lives on the shore of Lake Manitoba near St. Laurent and said the flood of 2011 was a "nightmare" that "you had to fight … every day."
However, Holmes said he's not sure if an outlet at the north end of the lake is the correct solution. Speeding up construction of the project doesn't impress him either.
"I'm torn," Holmes said. "Yes, perhaps for the medium term — I don't want to live through that again."
At the same time, Holmes said, "I'm not sold on it as a long-term solution…. It's ignoring the fact that water from the Assiniboine River doesn't belong in the lake in the first place."
Holmes said he understands why residents want a solution to high water levels on Lake Manitoba, and why politicians would promise quick action on the outlet, but he's worried that Lake Manitoba would end up poisoned with algae blooms like in Lake Winnipeg.
He said he'd rather see a more comprehensive solution that would possibly involve expropriating land and flooding it so that Lake Manitoba wouldn't be filled with water that doesn't belong in it.