Trudeau promises fix for Peguis flooding ahead of child care announcement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is working to prevent future flooding in Manitoba communities like Peguis First Nation, where more than 900 evacuees remain out of their homes since last spring.

It’s not the first time the largest First Nation community in Manitoba has had to be evacuated because of flooding. It has also happened in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014.

Each time, it causes millions of dollars in damage to homes and critical infrastructure on the community, about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg. About $24 million has been spent since 2006, but it is largely on recovery and reactionary efforts, not proactive protection.

“We know that we cannot keep doing this. We need to make sure that the community is safe,” Trudeau told CBC Manitoba Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Friday.

He said his government is in discussions with Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson about what is needed.

Hudson and other First Nations leaders have called on the federal and provincial governments for permanent flood protection.

A study completed in 2008 identified four options for Peguis: Holding back water upstream, building a diversion channel, raising homes up on mounds or building dikes along either side of the Fisher River or around clusters of homes.

A ring dike is not an option, given the linear layout of the community, where homes are built along both sides of the Fisher River and stretch out for kilometres.

A series of dikes would cost about $90 million, Hudson has said, while a diversion channel to direct the water around the community, like Winnipeg’s floodway, would cost about $50 million.

“We are absolutely looking at future-proofing communities right across the country, particularly vulnerable Indigenous communities. We know that the people in Peguis have faced extraordinary difficulty,” Trudeau said on Friday.

Pressed about whether he would commit to something now, he would only say Ottawa “is working very, very closely” with the community.

He was also asked if he feels a sense of responsibility for Peguis’s plight. The community was uprooted from its original settlement on prime farmland around present-day Selkirk and forced to relocate to a flood zone in the early 1900s.

“Absolutely,” Trudeau said. “The federal government, in so many cases, whether it’s residential schools, whether it’s forcible displacement and relocation, whether it’s any range of things … has repeatedly over the past generations and centuries failed in its responsibility to be true partners in respect with Indigenous peoples.

“We have a lot of work to rebuilt that trust and respect.”

The prime minister is in Winnipeg primarily to make an announcement, alongside Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, about affordable, high-quality child care. The visit comes one week after the federal and provincial governments reached a $6.7-billion health-care funding agreement.

Trudeau is scheduled to visit health-care workers at a hospital after the child care announcement.

A man with short dark hair holds a microphone and speaks to an audience, which is seen in the foreground. The man wears a great suit, blue collared shirt and a tie. Four Canada flags are draped behind him.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to Liberal Party supporters at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg on Thursday night. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He arrived in Winnipeg Thursday and attended an evening Liberal Party fundraising event at the Fort Garry Hotel.

At that event, he spoke about how the last few years have been tough and there’s a lot to be anxious about — the pandemic, extreme weather events, war in Ukraine, inflation and the rising cost of living — but people on the Prairies know how to weather these storms.

“Canadians, and especially folks on the Prairies and especially Winnipeggers and Manitobans, know what it’s like to make it through hard times successfully, because you do an extraordinary job of leaning on each other,” he said.

Democracy is all about coming together at all times, not just on election days, he said.

Trudeau also took time to criticize Opposition Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who visited the city in January and spoke to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a controversial Winnipeg-based group associated with efforts to downplay the effects of residential schools on Indigenous children and oppose vaccine mandates.

“He’s like, oh, no, no.  We’re just being responsible in our talking, talking to everyone,” Trudea said.

“Well, there’s people you shouldn’t talk to. There’s things you cannot be encouraging if you want to be a serious leader of an extraordinary, diverse country like Canada.”