Skip to main content

Paddlers take to flooded streets in Central Ontario, April 23, 2013.

First Nations communities threatened by rising waters each spring should be moved off flood plains once and for all, a member of the Ontario legislature said Tuesday after flood fears triggered another wave of evacuations in the province.

"For years, we've been spending a lot of money moving people, flying them out every time there's a flood," said New Democrat Gilles Bisson, whose riding includes the flood-plagued James Bay region.

"It just seems to me that if we just keep on evacuating every spring, and every summer, we repair the damages from each flood, we're just spending literally millions of dollars every year and not really finding a longer-term solution as far as permanency goes for those communities," he said.

The provincial and federal governments should figure out a way to move residents to higher ground over time, as they did years ago in Timmins, Ont., Mr. Bisson said.

A day earlier, hundreds more residents were flown out of the Kashechewan First Nation in northern Ontario, which is about 500 kilometres north of Timmins.

About 900 people – nearly two thirds of the remote reserve's population of about 1,500 – have been evacuated as a precaution since the First Nation declared an emergency last week, Emergency Management Ontario said.

Evacuees are being housed in Cornwall, Thunder Bay and other communities.

About 160 vulnerable residents in Moosonee have been taken to Sudbury, while officials continue to monitor water levels in the troubled First Nation of Attawapiskat, which is also under a state of emergency.

Heavy snowfall followed by a rapid melt overwhelmed infrastructure in both Attawapiskat and Kashechewan last week, sending sewage into homes, schools and Attawapiskat's hospital.

Both the provincial and federal representatives for the area have said they expect the cleanup to be costly.

As concerns over rising waters grow in Ontario, officials in the Prairie provinces said flood risks there appeared to be waning.

The Manitoba government's latest dispatch said the threat was receding in many areas but there could be still be flooding to agricultural lands near parts of the Assiniboine River.

Meanwhile, farmers who say they are still suffering the effects of record flooding in 2011 took to the legislature in Winnipeg om Tuesday to demand more money.

"People who are artificially flooded are entitled to full compensation," Jonas Johnson, who farms near Lake Manitoba, told about 100 protesters.

Mr. Johnson and other producers blocked the operation of the Portage Diversion channel for 12 hours last month. The diversion takes water out of the Assiniboine River and dumps it into Lake Manitoba.

In 2011, when the Assiniboine hit record levels, the government expanded the Portage Diversion and put much more water than usual into the lake, swamping nearby properties.

In Saskatchewan on Tuesday, some were keeping an eye on rising lake levels, but in other areas, the worst of the flood threat has passed.

Emergency management officials said Tuesday the late snow melt has kept water levels in the Qu'Appelle River system and some lakes lower than predicted, though there could still be localized flooding.

Thirteen communities in the province remained under states of emergency.

Asked whether Ottawa would consider moving communities, a spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt would only say that federal officials continue to "invest in and work with First Nations to ensure the health and safety of their communities."

The ministry has already committed funding for a study of flood-mitigation options for the Albany River, where Kashechewan is located, Andrea Richer said.

Valcourt's parliamentary secretary Greg Rickford met with the displaced residents on Tuesday in Kapuskasing, Ont., "to ensure that the immediate health and safety needs of evacuated community members continue to be met."

Valcourt said Rickford told them that the federal government's priority remains the health and safety of community members, and the safe return of evacuees to their homes.

"Once the immediate emergency is over, the government's priority will be to work with the First Nation to expedite the recovery effort so that people can return to their communities," Valcourt said in a statement.

Interact with The Globe