MANFF staff banned from hotels as tensions grow
Hotel owner accuses co-ordinators of intimidation, negligence towards flood evacuees
Citing allegations of intimidation and negligence, Ashern Hotel owner Mike Bruneau has evicted a Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters co-ordinator from his hotel on Thursday and intends to do the same at his other hotel, Misty Lake Lodge, on Friday.
Tensions between Bruneau, who is owed almost $2 million for housing First Nations evacuees from the 2011 flood, and MANFF are coming to a head over reports that MANFF co-ordinators are intimidating staff and evacuees.
There are currently 20 evacuees at the Ashern Hotel and 65 evacuees at Misty Lake Lodge, which Bruneau also owns.
MANFF co-ordinators are hired to stay at the hotels to help the evacuees with meal vouchers, supplies and information.
But Retha Dykes, the general manager at Misty Lake, said, "There is never a co-ordinator around when an evacuee needs help … a meal ticket, arrangement of counselling, or anything. They can't find a co-ordinator in the hotel."
Edith O'Meara, an evacuee from the Lake St. Martin First Nation, told CBC News that even when she could find a MANFF co-ordinator, they weren't very helpful.
'Just a nuisance to them'
According to O'Meara, in April 2011 she told the co-ordinator at the Garden City Inn that she couldn't carry her bags because of a broken toe.
O'Meara said the co-ordinator "didn't do anything to even help…. She didn't even introduce herself or look at our faces.
"We were just in their way, we were just wasting their time … just a nuisance to them," she said.
Dykes said complaining to MANFF has done nothing to help the situation.
"The more we complained, the worse the co-ordinators got and the less MANFF would talk to us," said Dykes.
Ashern Hotel manager Colette Bergen said the MANFF co-ordinator at her hotel yells at the evacuees and treats staff very rudely.
"I've heard him swear at them … I've had headaches after dealing with him," she said.
Association owes millions to hotels
CBC News previously reported that the association still owes millions of dollars to the Misty Lake Lodge and other hotels.
MANFF also paid more than $1 million to the Mona Lisa Ristorante in Winnipeg for late-night snacks over an eight-month period.
That breaks down to almost $60 per day, per person, in ineligible food costs for which the federal government is refusing to reimburse the Manitoba government.
Allegations of excessive overtime charged by Derek Bushie, MANFF's emergency operations officer, and the sons of MANFF senior officials surfaced last week.
MANFF denied the allegations but would not agree to an interview about its co-ordinators.
Bruneau provided emails to CBC News that show he repeatedly contacted Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization and the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, asking for help in dealing with issues related to MANFF co-ordinators at his hotels.
Aboriginal and Northern Development Affairs Canada did not returns calls from CBC News about Bruneau's decision to evict co-ordinators at his hotels.
The province says the ongoing situation at MANFF has nothing to do with them, even though they are paying $1.5 million a month to the organization.
Co-ordinators being replaced
Plans are currently underway to replace the MANFF co-ordinators at Ashern Hotel and Misty Lake Lodge with ones chosen by the band councils at the Lake St. Martin and Little Saskatchewan First Nations.
Their band members make up most of the 20 evacuees staying at Ashern hotel and 65 evacuees at Misty Lake Lodge.
Representatives from both First Nations confirm that they support Bruneau's decision to replace the MANFF co-ordinators.
The First Nations officials also expressed frustration and concern over allegations that evacuees were being mistreated by MANFF employees.