‘He should be helping out’: Frustration erupts among snowstorm evacuees as Scheer campaigns in Winnipeg

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Evacuees in Manitoba driven from their homes by a massive recent snowstorm that cut off power to thousands said today they were annoyed by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s decision to campaign in Winnipeg today.

A few dozen people evacuated from rural Indigenous communities hit hard by the storm were in the lobby of the city’s Radisson Hotel this morning, waiting for a Red Cross bus to take them to other temporary housing, when journalists following Scheer’s campaign tour showed up for an afternoon policy announcement.

Several of the evacuees said Scheer’s choice of venue for the announcement — in a city and a province that have declared states of emergency in the wake of a storm that left tens of thousands without power — was misguided.

“If Andrew Scheer wants to campaign, he should help us,” said Margaret Missyabit of Lake Manitoba First Nation, one of at least nine Indigenous communities in Manitoba that have declared states of emergency.

“He should be standing here helping us.”

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer gives the thumbs up as he and his wife Jill board the campaign plane in Ottawa, Monday October 14, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Scheer is campaigning today in three ridings held by the Liberals in Winnipeg.

“My thoughts are with all of the families who are affected by the snowstorms in Manitoba,” Scheer tweeted earlier today.

“Canada’s Conservatives are committed to ensuring Indigenous communities have the energy infrastructure needed to maintain essential services.”

Nearly all of the roughly 680 people living at Lake Manitoba had to make a sudden two-hour drive southeast to Winnipeg on Saturday after their power went out.

“Try dealing with the crisis instead of looking for votes,” said Edward Prince, another evacuee from the First Nation. “Look after the people.”

Following his campaign announcement at the hotel — which was to list the policy priorities of an incoming Conservative government over its first 100 days — Scheer said he had made a personal donation to storm relief through the Red Cross but would not disclose the sum.

Prince and Missyabit said the evacuation process was disorganized and they still don’t have enough food or water. Missyabit said she is not getting any assistance for her 19-year-old disabled son.

“We’re not animals to be shuffled around like this,” Missyabit said. “It’s frustrating.”

Nearly 21,000 Manitoba homes and businesses remained without power early Monday in the wake of a snowstorm that the province’s Crown energy utility said had left an unprecedented amount of damage to transmission lines, towers and more — damage that will take days to repair.

“First Nations should be dealt with,” Prince said. “This is ridiculous. A lot of us don’t even have a change of clothes.”

Damage from downed trees and power lines posed hazards in Portage la Prairie. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

The Canadian Red Cross opened a warming shelter at the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg over the weekend for the First Nations, which it said was necessary because of the potential number of evacuees as well as a lack of available hotel rooms. A Red Cross spokesperson told CBC News it’s prepared to set up another shelter that could double the number of people it can support.

Premier Brian Pallister declared a state of emergency early Sunday morning.

The move makes it easier for Manitoba Hydro crews to access private land and invokes help from neighbouring provinces and states — Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota — who were being asked for workers, poles and even transmission towers.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he has decided not to travel to Winnipeg right now because the focus should be on public safety.

“I think it’s important for the folks right now to focus on making sure everyone is safe and secure. That’s their priority right now and so we’ve made that decision.”