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NDP's Layton tours Quebec flood region

ILE AUX NOIX, Que. -- With cane in hand and sporting a pair of thigh-high boots, Jack Layton treaded into Quebec's flood waters and into the controversy over Ottawa's performance throughout the crisis.

The NDP leader heard from locals Monday who can't understand why the feds -- citing standard operating procedure -- won't let soldiers stick around to help with cleanup.

Layton said he would raise these concerns directly with the prime minister and in Parliament.

He also made the suggestion that it's time to review disaster protocols in Canada, given that more extreme weather events are expected to become increasingly common.

"It's been predicted for quite some time that we're going to have worse weather -- stronger weather,'' Layton said.

"All the insurance companies have been predicting it, weather scientists have been predicting it. We're going to have to take a look at how we respond, as a society.''

In its 2009 report, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said insurance claims related to severe weather, even when adjusted for inflation, have doubled every five to 10 years since the 1950s.

Layton called the federal response to the floods an "insult.'' He said people will be expecting help as they return to their homes, and a little bit of solidarity -- and he said Ottawa hasn't been showing enough of that.

About 3,000 people have been forced from their homes in month-long floods that are the worst in the region in decades.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has visited other disaster sites this spring, in Alberta and Manitoba, but not this one; two federal ministers have visited on the government's behalf.

Locals felt the authorities were too slow to send in the troops, and too quick to pull them out.

Ottawa's view is that the military should not be competing with private-sector cleanup companies and that troops should be there strictly for the emergency phase of the operation.

One mayor told Layton that the relationship with the military is fantastic and that soldiers are doing a fine job.

But he says the federal government's overall response has been, "weak.'' He says the so-called "emergency'' phase includes the moment when tired, stressed-out residents return to their damaged homes.

Layton agreed that the reason cited for pulling out the soldiers was insulting; he suggested federal infrastructure programs might perhaps be able to help flood victims.

"We're looking for a way to work together,'' the NDP leader said.

"It's not a question of ideology, or politics.''

More than 7,500 people have volunteered to help clean up once the flood waters subside -- well above organizers' target of 5,000.

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