May 17, 1955 (22nd Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Gilbert Weir (Parliamentary Assistant to the Prime Minister; Chief Government Whip; Whip of the Liberal Party)

Liberal Progressive

Mr. W. G. Weir (Poriage-Neepawa):

I do
not know, Mr. Speaker, whether or not you will consider the remarks I am about to make

strictly in order. It is true that they could properly be made during the consideration of the estimates of some department, probably the Department of Agriculture, but my good friend the hon. member for Selkirk has prompted me to say a word or two with respect to the flood condition in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at the present time. If I should not continue with these remarks I shall abide by your ruling.
However, I would say this at the outset. While hon. members from Saskatchewan are complaining bitterly, and properly so, about the catastrophe that has occurred in their province as the result of abnormal rainfall and flooding, I say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the members of this house, that much of that same water is finding its way down through the province of Manitoba and causing us some very serious problems there. I can imagine that right tonight on the Assini-boine river there are dozens and dozens of men out manning the dikes in an attempt to prevent that river from overflowing its banks. This river is taking much of the overflow that is coming from the province of Saskatchewan.
We cannot do anything about keeping that water out. It is an abnormal flow, it is true, but I assure you that the hon. member for Selkirk did not exaggerate the condition in Manitoba at the present time. I think he will agree with me that if any attack of a fundamental and practical character upon the situation were to be undertaken the cost would shock this house. I may say that lake Manitoba is over three and a half feet above normal, and this is causing considerable damage to the adjacent farmlands and to a very fashionable summer resort on that lake.
This lake flows into a lake in my hon. friend's constituency. The people on my side of the lake would like to open a channel and pour more water into lake Winnipeg, but we are faced with very violent protests at such a plan. I would suggest to this house that any plan of effective control would have to be carried right through to the Nelson river flowing into Hudson bay. I am only making this statement to give you some idea of the magnitude of the problem that is facing Manitoba.
At this time the Assiniboine river is carrying the bulk of this run-off water. It is threatening not only the low lands in the city of Brandon but many farm areas along the way. There has been a recommendation that the Assiniboine river might be dammed in the neighbourhood of Russell, a proposition which the engineers have estimated would cost in the neighbourhood of $6 to $10 million. There has been another suggestion that the Assiniboine river might be diverted into lake Manitoba, the lake which
Floods in Western Canada I have stated is already about three and a half feet above normal. This is another proposition that would cost from $6 to $10 million, to say nothing of the cost of a diversion to run the water from lake Manitoba into lake Winnipeg and then carry the whole thing out to the Nelson river.
We have another side of the problem which is not quite so serious with respect to the Assiniboine river. It is true these conditions are abnormal. We have had too much rainfall and too much snow for the ordinary streams to carry the run-off. In my opinion there is still another problem that has played some part, to a limited degree, in creating this situation. During the last 10 or perhaps 15 years we have had great advances in machinery, particularly bulldozers run by caterpillar tractors. They have been very useful and convenient in clearing scrub land. Much of the land that used to be bush or scrub has been cleared and put into production. In addition, the same machines have been found very satisfactory in making ditches and helping to build drains. The result of this has been to speed up the flow of water, so the ordinary facilities have not been able to take care of this very quick run-off.
I am sure anyone from Manitoba fully recognizes that Manitoba has a problem of considerable magnitude at the present time. If attacked in a practical and effective manner it is going to be extremely costly. It is a problem which I admit is beyond the resources of the municipalities and the province to cope with. At the same time, I do not think there is any disposition on the part of the federal government not to lend some measure of co-operation to Manitoba, just as the government has elsewhere in attacking these problems.
In saying that, I should like to be very specific and say that I do not think anyone is going to suggest at any time or any place that the jurisdiction or responsibility for attacking this problem in our province rests with the federal government alone. I do not think our people in Manitoba would welcome the end result which that sort of policy would mean. I do not believe Manitoba, while welcoming financial support, would say that sole jurisdiction for meeting the situation that has been created in our province should be turned over to the federal government.
I leave that with you. But I point out that we still have the recollection of other floods in our province which have had very serious consequences, and the remedy for which has not as yet been provided or attacked. Because of the particular topography of our province

Public Service-Veterans Preference cost requirements are presented to which no one has yet been prepared to face up.
These people along lakes Manitoba and Winnipeg and in the St. Martin area, and along the Assiniboine river are deeply concerned. Many of them have been seriously affected, and many are suffering heavy losses. Many of them, as in Saskatchewan, will find it difficult to seed a crop.
I might add, too, that we had one other serious misfortune this spring on that same Assiniboine river, something which no one could foresee, which no one could foretell, and against which no protection could be guaranteed. I refer to the ice jam which occurred on the river when it was almost at full flow. It caused considerable damage by flooding the lower reaches and necessitating the moving of several hundred families from Portage la Prairie. This in turn brought the problem of the river overflowing its banks and flooding an extensive area.
So I would not like it to be thought that the problem of flood conditions and excess water applies only to Saskatchewan. It may apply to Saskatchewan in a very serious manner, but it also applies to Manitoba, and at the present time largely because of water coming from Saskatchewan.
I have had discussions with several people including flood control committees, members of the provincial legislature, our own Minister of Agriculture and federal members from Manitoba, in an effort to see what approach would be considered the soundest and most logical to meet these abnormal conditions. The irony is, as the hon. member for Selkirk knows, that it was only a matter of 12 or 15 years ago that the Fairford river, which presents one of the problems in this picture, was dammed up in order to keep up the level in lake Manitoba. I offer this only as an indication of how abnormal conditions develop, and just how difficult they are to cope with.
It is one of those times when we have to sit down with those who are most affected and try to work out a solution that will be of value, whether through the building of dams, the building of further cut-offs, the placing of diversion channels or the buying up of lands of those who are affected. Some approach of that kind must be recognized. I believe it will be faced up to, and I would hope in the not too distant future.

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