By Brian Pallister, Premier of Manitoba
I re-entered public life five years ago because I wanted to make the lives of Manitobans and the prospects for Manitoba better.
In 2016, Manitobans placed their confidence in my team to govern our province.
It is an honour and a sacred trust. Everything our government does passes through the filter of what is best for our citizens and our province. Not what is best for one group of citizens or one part of the province, but for all citizens in all parts of Manitoba.
Those are our values. That is how we govern.
On the other hand, when an entity such as Manitoba Hydro makes a decision, it does so with the interests of Manitoba Hydro as its priority. Manitoba Hydro represents Manitoba Hydro. Our government represents all Manitobans. So, as the government for all Manitobans, we have to ensure that those decisions – the priorities and policies of Manitoba Hydro – align with our priorities and policies for the province.
Earlier this week, our government sent a directive to Manitoba Hydro to not proceed with a payment of nearly $70 million to the Manitoba Metis Federation. This agreement was in exchange for a commitment by the MMF to not oppose Hydro’s Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line project and some other projects, as yet undefined, for decades into the future
That payment would not have been a good use of taxpayers’ money. For one thing, Hydro is already in a precarious financial position because of the irresponsible actions of the former government. Further, there are avenues for the MMF to express their concerns about the transmission line such as the Clean Environment Commission and the National Energy Board review and my government will not attempt to restrict the MMF in their right to participate in these processes.
I don’t see spending your money for a special payment to one group, in order to smooth the way for the transmission line, as a very transparent or responsible thing for a government to do. Even more troubling is the precedent it would set for the future. If we bought cooperation for $70 million this time, what will it cost next time? What will we be faced with when we attempt to move forward with the absolutely critical Lake Manitoba outlet channel to prevent a repeat of the devastating floods in the Interlake in 2011?
What would the cost be to buy cooperation for that vital project, a project that will protect Indigenous and non-Indigenous Manitobans alike? What if all this causes such delay that we experience another flood similar to 2011 in the interim? Will we be spending another $400 million on housing and returning home displaced residents? Will be spending millions more on compensation payments for lives disrupted and homes, farms and cottages destroyed?
Before too long, we would be looking at a billion-dollar boondoggle. A billion dollars of taxpayers’ money spent on an entirely preventable scenario.
The Hydro board resigned once our government’s directive became clear. They cited a lack of access to myself and our government, but this situation did not arise because of a lack of communication between the Hydro board and the government. Crowns Minister Cliff Cullen and my senior officials have met or spoken with the Hydro board chair many times in the past year. I myself committed to meeting with the board immediately following the Public Utility Board’s decision on Hydro’s rate application. It would be inappropriate for me to meet with the board before that, as it would open both sides to accusations of attempting to influence a quasi-judicial process. A previous Hydro chair has told me that during the 10 years he held the post he had three meetings with the Premier.
This situation was not caused by a lack of communication. It was caused by our government’s refusal to agree to a deal that would have been bad for Manitoba. A deal that tries to sell away the future rights of Metis people to express their views on Hydro projects.
It’s a bad idea for rate payers, landowners, The Manitoba Metis and Indigenous people. It’s not about truth or reconciliation. It’s about Hydro using millions of ratepayers dollars to buy rights they have no right to buy from a person who has not right to sell them.
When there is a conflict between an arm or an agency of government and the interests of all Manitobans, this government will stand up for Manitobans every time.